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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Kamikaze Skull Found At Pearl Harbour

U.S. Navy photo of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour.

Okay... I'm just using the familiar term "kamikaze (divine wind - the name given to Japan's suicide pilots in the waning days of WWII between October 1944 - July 29 1945 when the last ship was sunk by a Kamikaze)" in the headline. It's not a kamikaze skull. 

However, an excavation crew dredging the harbour has found a skull that archeologists think might be from the Pear Harbour attack by Japan back on December 7, 1941 (when the U.S. joined WWII a full two years after it began), a date the Americans say will live in infamy.

Apparently it still does.

Archaeologist Jeff Fong of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific (NAVFAC Pacific) says there are efforts now to try and identify the skull, with early analysis making him 75 per cent positive the skull belongs to a Japanese pilot. 

While he did not say what has led him to these beliefs, Fong stated that it was not from any of Hawaii's ancient burial sites.

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii has also contacted local police and ruled out the possibility that it's from an active missing person case

The items found with the skull also provided clues: forks, scraps of metal and a Coca-Cola from the 1940s.

According to historical documents, it is known that 55 Japanese fliers were killed and 29 of their aircraft were shot down in the attack. The U.S. lost 2,400 service members that day in the surprise attack.

No confirmed Japanese remains have ever been found at Pearl Harbor since World War II. Hawaii was not a part of the United States at that time - it was a protectorate Territory and did not join until August 21, 1959 - but when Japan attacked the US Naval base there, it was considered an attack against the U.S.

The skull remains intact despite being dug up with giant cranes and shovels on April 1, 2011 after it and other items were dredged from the water and left to dry overnight. Upon discovering the skull, all work ceased immediately in case it was a crime scene.

"We definitely wanted it to be handled correctly," says Denise Emsley, public affairs officer for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii. "That's why it's been kept quiet. We didn't want to excite people prematurely."

The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) on Oahu, Hawaii, charged with identifying Americans who were killed in action but were never brought home, was contacted to determine the identity of the male skull by examining dental records and DNA.

According to John Byrd, the lab's director and a forensic anthropologist: "We're working on the case but the case is just in the early stages of analysis. We're not going to know much more about it for a while yet."

The lab is the only accredited Skeletal Identification Laboratory in the U.S. JPAC has identified more than 560 Americans since it began operations in 2003.

It's rare to find remains in Hawaii, said Niitsu Kohei (surname first), an official at Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Tokyo. "The government usually sends a team to determine if the remains are indeed Japanese, and if this is confirmed, they are brought back to Japan."

NAVFAC Pacific issued a statement on July 20, 2011 noting it was early in the case to identify the remains.

"Until we receive the final report of the forensic analysis being conducted by scientists at (JPAC), we won't know with certainty whether the remains are a Japanese pilot or not," the statement said.

Daniel Martinez, the National Park Service's chief historian for Pearl Harbor, said experts on Pearl Harbor know enough about the specific location where Japanese planes went down in the attack that they might be able to match the skull with a crewmember.

"They landed in a variety places throughout Pearl Harbor and the island of Oahu," Martinez explains "In the area of Pearl Harbor, we know what plane was shot down and who was in the crew.

"I think that anytime you're able to reclaim a casualty and perhaps even identify it, regardless of what country, it may bring closure to a family."

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