Japanese dead from Pearl Harbor attack might remain buried on Oahu
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — Historians would like to solve one of the remaining mysteries of the Pearl Harbor attack: What happened to the approximately 29 Japanese airmen and four sailors still missing in action?
The majority are thought to have been lost at sea around the isles and in Pearl Harbor, but four aircrew members may still lie buried in unmarked graves in Ewa Beach and in the hills above Aiea.
"For a long time, we didn't even know the names (of the Japanese losses)," said Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the Arizona Memorial. "And I can be honest with you, at a given point in our earlier history, we didn't care, because of the nature of the attack."
The passage of time has seen Japan become one of the United States' strongest allies and many of Pearl Harbor's defenders have reconciled with the Japanese attackers.
A proposal is in the works to have an exhibit at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center with the names of all the fallen Japanese from Dec. 7, "which will bring total closure to the casualty list that actually exists right here on our grounds," Martinez said.
It remains unclear, meanwhile, exactly what happened to some of those downed Japanese attackers.
"That is one of the things, that in the postscript of Pearl Harbor, we haven't spent much scholarship on," Martinez said, adding he is making that one of his goals.
Fifty-four Japanese aviators and nine sailors who served on five midget submarines are believed to have died in or near Hawaii on the Sunday morning attack. A 55th fatality was returned to the carrier Akagi.
Pearl Harbor historian David Aiken said 25 airmen and three submariners were initially buried in various locations, including Oahu Cemetery in Nuuanu, Wahiawa cemetery and the Schofield Barracks post cemetery. After the war, the bodies were disinterred and repatriated to Japan, historians say.
That leaves 29 airmen unrecovered on or near Hawaii, according to Aiken. Of the nine submariners who presumably died, the bodies of only three have been found. Two bodies are likely aboard a midget sub found south of Oahu in 2002 by the Hawaii Undersea Research Lab.
Martinez said the study will include how some of the enemy Japanese forces were buried at cemeteries in Nuuanu and other locations and later repatriated.
"I'm just wondering, when those aviators were buried there, what was the feeling in the city about that?" he said.
Anecdotal and eyewitness evidence exists regarding some of the Japanese losses, and an additional clue or discovery turns up sometimes decades later.
The discovery of a skull in Pearl Harbor in 2011 during a dredging operation raised the very real possibility that it could be the remains of a Japanese aviator.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam is studying the skull to see if an identification can be made.
At the time, Martinez said he was investigating whether the remains could be from one of three Nakajima B5N2 "Kate" torpedo bombers — each with three crew members — that went down in the vicinity on Dec. 7.
Aiken says that two Kate bombers are likely still in the harbor, with at least one of the planes still possibly recoverable.
In one of the known crashes and burials, Lt. Fusata Iida ran his damaged Zero fighter into Kansas Tower hill at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on Dec. 7 in what was believed to have been a kamikaze attack on a hangar.
The 28-year-old Iida was buried on base in a sand dune near the mass burial site of the 18 sailors and one civilian killed in the attack, the Marine Corps said. Iida's remains were later returned to Japan, the Corps said.
According to Kaneohe resident Kalani Ogata, who has researched the Dec. 7 attack and Japan's side of it for decades, at least 13 of the Japanese casualties initially were buried at Oahu Cemetery, one at Halawa Navy Cemetery, two at Schofield's cemetery (one aviator and one submariner), four at Wahiawa cemetery from two airplane crashes there, and Iida at Kaneohe Bay.
Aiken, however, believes that 28 were disinterred after the war and returned to Japan.
Pearl Harbor survivor Ray Emory, now 92, said "the ones that got buried were cremated, I know that, and the ashes were sent back (to Japan)."
Emory said he checked with the Japanese consulate years ago "and they couldn't tell me at the time, and they later called me and said they did learn that there were Japanese ashes returned after World War II. Whatever happened to them, they didn't know."
Japanese aviation historian Todd Pederson, who lives in California, said two-thirds of the casualties were from plane crashes at sea.
"Some of the planes exploded, and none of the remains would ever be located," he said.
Aiken's ocean crash research points to two Japanese planes going down off Niihau, one off the northwest coast of Kauai, two northwest of Oahu, one five miles west of Barbers Point, one off Camp Malakole south of Barbers Point, and one east of Kaaawa.
In the vicinity of Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, where American P-40 fighters piloted by Lt. George Welch and Lt. Ken Taylor fought back against the attackers, one downed and badly burned Japanese crew was buried in a karst sinkhole, and another crew came ashore and engaged in a gunbattle with U.S. forces.
The crew members buried in a sinkhole were Koreyoshi Sotoyama and Hajime Murao, whose Aichi D3A "Val" dive bomber went down where the Ocean Pointe subdivision is now, according to historians.
A road was later graded over the site and the two aviators may remain buried there.
Another "Val" crashed offshore, and pilot Gen Goto brought his mortally wounded radioman, Michiji Utsugi, to shore, where it's said Goto used both their pistols in a gunfight with the U.S. Army 55th Coast Artillery Corps until Goto was "dispatched."
"Who knows what happened to those two guys?" Pederson said.
Yet another Val, this one with Isamu Kiyomura and Yoshio Shimizu aboard, crashed in a macadamia nut grove in the hills above Aiea.
Ogata, the Kaneohe Dec. 7 researcher, said most of the plane burned, but the tail was left. Some historians believe the crew was buried next to the crashed aircraft and may remain there today.
Pearl Harbor survivor Emory recalled a rumor that someone had the tail section of the Val in his garage.
Ogata said homes were built in the crash area, and the burial site may have been lost to construction, but it's possible the wreckage could have been bulldozed off a ridge. He plans to do an aerial and ground search for the aircraft.
"This is important history," he said. "If that thing comes out, it's got to go to a museum."
The site remained a touchstone for Mikoma Nakano, who was 16 when Shimizu, her fiance, left for the Pearl Harbor attack.
"After he went on the mission and didn't return, she pined for him all these years. Never got married," said Ogata, who assisted a Japanese TV station and Nakano when she visited the crash site several years ago for a segment about the couple that aired in Japan in 2010.
"I'm hoping to find something (from the wreck)," Ogata said. "If I find something, I'm going to take at least a piece of it to Japan and give it to (the families)."