View Full Version : U.S., Japan search for WWII MIAs in Alaska

07-16-07, 08:36 PM
U.S., Japan search for WWII MIAs in Alaska
By Philip Ewing - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Jul 16, 2007 19:03:02 EDT

A U.S. and Japanese team is searching a rocky island in the Pacific for the remains of hundreds of World War II soldiers, still missing more than 60 years after a fierce battle — in Alaska.

The U.S. Coast Guard, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Japanese government are looking for the remains of hundreds of Japanese soldiers on the Alaskan island of Attu, site of the only North American battle of World War II, which was seized in June 1942 by the Japanese and recaptured by American forces the next year. Overshadowed by the other battles in the war, one historian summed up the fight for Attu as just “a sideshow” to the larger Pacific campaign.

“A lot of us were not that well-versed in history, and we didn’t know there had been land battles in the U.S.,” said Larry Greer, as spokesman for the Pentagon’s POW/MIA recovery division, which is supporting the search on Attu.

The ultimate battle for the island was bloody — 540 Americans were killed, Greer said, and more than 2,300 Japanese were killed, some in hand-to-hand fighting to the last man.

The American dead are accounted for, Greer said, but Japanese forces were scattered throughout the rocky, mountainous island, and searchers are looking for makeshift gravesites where Americans may have buried Japanese troops after the skirmishes. So far they’ve found a boot, dog tags and other minor evidence of the former occupiers, and the search isn’t over yet.

The searchers were flown to Attu on a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules, and the team is staying at a Coast Guard navigation station with Coast Guardsman who volunteered for the search. Greer said if the team turns up the remains of Japanese soldiers, the government of Japan will decide whether to excavate and move them.

The American cooperation with the Japanese search comes after a similar effort on a much more famous Pacific island — Iwo Jima, now formally called Iwo To, where the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force recently helped an American team scout for the remains of missing Americans.

After the two governments cooperated in the Iwo Jima search, Greer said, the Pentagon offered to help with a Japanese request to look for the remains on Attu. American soldiers found the remains of some 235 Japanese soldiers shortly after World War II ended, but none since then.

Japan invaded Attu as part of a northern feint in 1942 leading up to the Battle of Midway — Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto wanted to draw the American fleet away from Midway and the Hawaiian Islands, but Adm. Chester W. Nimitz didn’t take the bait, and so the Japanese and U.S. navies fought in the South Pacific.