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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Excavation near a dormitory on the north side of the base recently turned up more than just muddy soil.

A construction worker digging near Building 208 uncovered what officials believe are Imperial Japanese army relics dating to World War II — a rusty rifle, canteen, beverage containers and knives.

The items may have been buried along with other debris, according to Donna Collier, the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron’s environmental flight chief. Members of the nearby Fussa City Board of Education were called to verify Japanese markings on the materials.

Yokota officials are hoping to preserve the objects for public display.

“They will definitely not be destroyed,” Collier said last week.

It’s also likely other artifacts from the war remain hidden around Yokota, she added.

“In fact, this is not the first time historical items have been recovered,” she said.

In April 1996, Yokota airmen on a cleanup detail came across separate 37 mm and 47 mm artillery shells while combing the base’s east side, according to Robert Sligh, 5th Air Force historian and chief of the 374th Airlift Wing’s history office. A Misawa Air Base ordnance disposal team hauled the World War II-era explosives to a training area and destroyed them.

War ordnance has been discovered elsewhere in the Pacific, too.

During the so-called “Marianas Turkey Shoot,” a decisive naval battle, U.S. forces sank many Japanese ships — and a lot of munitions went down with them.

“Those old weapons are probably more likely to be found in New Guinea or places like that, where heavy fighting took place,” Sligh said. “In Guam and the Philippines, though, fishermen would salvage Japanese munitions.

“But considering how many men and resources were expended — as well as the actions that took place — it’s not beyond reason there’s still stuff out there.”

Still, unexploded remnants — including some from World War I — are a far more common find in Europe, he said.

“There were a large amount of artillery shells expended, and they weren’t that good,” Sligh said. “Some wouldn’t explode, especially if they hit the soft mud.”

Smaller items such as the relics found May 25 at the Yokota excavation were likely discarded, forgotten or hid at the end of World War II, he added.

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