Skull from WWII casualty to be buried in grave for Japanese unknown soldiers
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Almost six decades after he died on a Pacific battlefield beach, the remains of an unknown Japanese soldier — a skull picked up by a souvenir-hunting GI — finally will be laid to rest.
The skull, discovered on the shore of an Illinois lake in February 2000, is to be interred in the Chidorigafuchi Grave of Unknown Soldiers in Tokyo, Okinawa prefectural officials announced.
The decision ends a long journey that spanned some 60 years and half the globe.
The skull surfaced, literally, on Feb. 2 when a 61-year-old Springfield, Ill., man, walking along the drought-depleted shore of Lake Springfield, noticed what appeared to be a skull sunk partially in the mud. After he reported it to police, the media descended on the story.
Shortly thereafter, 18-year-old Jeremy Rupp told police he’d thrown the skull in the lake because his family complained about it being displayed in his bedroom. He told police he’d retrieved it from his grandfather’s trunk.
Rupp’s father, Robert Rupp, 48, a retired Marine gunnery sergeant, told Stars and Stripes in May 2000 that his father, a World War II Navy medic, picked up the skull during the Pacific campaign.
He was unsure where his dad, who later became a high school biology teacher, found the skull.
“I think he said it was Guadalcanal, but it could have been Okinawa,” Rupp said at the time the skull was found. “He was in several battles.”
He said his father used the skull in his biology classes. He died when Rupp was 12; the skull and other personal items were boxed and stored in an attic.
Jeremy Rupp found the skull, spray painted it gold and put a bandana around its forehead. He kept it on display in his room until January 2000.
Once identified as a Japanese skull, it was sent to the U.S. Naval Hospital on Okinawa for eventual return to Japan. And there it sat for another three years, ensnarled in diplomatic red tape.
It was to be repatriated during the G8 summit on Okinawa in August 2000, coinciding with then President Clinton’s visit, but the return was delayed when U.S. officials determined too little evidence existed to establish that the skull was that of a Japanese soldier.
That was despite Rupp’s story and multiple forensic examinations showing the skull was that of a man 30 to 40 years old who’d sustained a fatal wound to the right temple.
Finally, in June 2003, the skull was turned over to Okinawa officials.
“It has been temporarily placed at the National Grave of the Unknown Soldiers on Okinawa in Itoman,” said Tsutomu Shimoji of the Okinawa prefectural government’s War Victims’ Relief Division.
He said the remains of about 183,000 people who died during the Battle of Okinawa lie in the mass grave.
“However, based on information we gathered from the servicemember’s son, who told us that his father had not served on Okinawa during the war, we determined that the skull was not of an individual who died on Okinawa,” Shimoji said.
“We do not know if the skull belonged to Japanese, but we have already decided not to try to determine if it was for Japanese or not,” he said. “Since it was picked up some place else in the Pacific, we came to a conclusion that it would be appropriate to place it in the grave in Tokyo.”
He said it will be on its way to Tokyo by the end of the month.
Chidorigafuchi Memorial Garden, in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, is a grave of the unknown soldiers who fought overseas during Japan’s Imperialist period, from 1937 to 1945. About 350,000 remains are buried there, said Miyoshi Ueda, an administrator for the gardens.
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.