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Japanese Searching for Graves of American World War II MIAs on Saipan Island

( [email protected] ) Aug 05, 2014 08:13 PM EDT
A Japanese group is looking through a New York military museum's WWII documents to find clues as to the whereabouts of the graves of Americans still listed as missing in action on the island of Saipan. The group hopes to return the remains to the families of the soldiers, saying it is the "right thing to do."
This July 1944 file photo shows U.S. Army reinforcement troops making an amphibious landing on the coral reef at Saipan beach, Mariana Islands. Racing against time, members of a Japanese organization are combing a New York military museum's World War II records for information they hope will lead to the graves of American servicemen still listed as missing in action on Saipan. (AP)

A Japanese group is searching a New York military museum's World War II records for information, hoping to find clues as to the whereabouts of graves of Americans still listed as missing in action on the island of Saipan.

Kuentai-Japan, a nonprofit group that searches Pacific islands for Japan's fallen soldiers,may be running out of time, as a developer plans to begin construction in the fall of buildings near the beach where hundreds of American soldiers died in Japan's largest mass suicide during the war.

So far, the group has found the remains of at least two Americans fighting near the construction site, and believe at least sixteen others are buried nearby.

"This is urgent," said Kuentai founder Usan Kurata, a 58 year old journalist. He said the Japanese organization believes that returning American's remains to their family is the "right thing to do."

The soldiers, many of whom were from New York State, have been missing since July 7, 1944, when 3,000 Japanese troops launched the assault that killed or wounded more than 900 soldiers in the Army's 105th Regiment, part of the 27th Infantry Division.

The museum which the group is combing holds many of the Division's records, enlistment cards, rosters, regimental yearbooks, photographs, and journals. 

Kuentai uncovered a mass grave containing the skeletal remains of nearly 800 Japanese troops after investigating battlefield photos published in Life magazine in August 1944 and military maps at the National Archives in Washington.  The group cremated the bones and brought the ashes back to Japan for burial.

A recent excavation turned up the remains of five probably American soldiers, which were returned for burial in their homes states of Kentucky and Pennsylvania. There are currently around 20 American soldiers unnacounted for on Saipan.

According to the Hawaii-based U.S. Join POW MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), developers must follow Saipan's strict historic preservation laws, and if a probably burial site is found to be endangered, the United States will send a recovery team. According to Kuentai, the group has an agreement with the condo project's developer to investigate the property for remains, but it still waiting for approval from local authorities.