Almost 70 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, an excavation crew may have found the skull of a Japanese pilot who died in action.
The skull was found by a crew dredging the infamous harbor and forensic scientists are in the process of running tests to verify its identity. Jeff Fong of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific told the Associated Press that based on early analysis he is “75 percent sure” the skull is that of a Japanese aviator. Fong also explained that the Coca-Cola bottle found alongside the skull has been verified as from the 1940s.
If the skull is confirmed to be that of one of the 55 Japanese aviators who died in the surprise attack by the Japanese, it will be the first piece of Japanese remains found at Pearl Harbor since World War II. The US military suffered more than 2,300 deaths and lost more than 180 aircraft in the December 7, 1941 attack, in comparison to the between 29 and 60 planes and fewer than 100 men lost by the Japanese.
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The skull, which remains intact, was discovered in early April, and contractors were subsequently instructed to cease dredging activity, Denise Emsley, public affairs officer for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii, told the AP. Fong has already ruled out that the skull is that of a Native Hawaiian or from an ancient burial site, and Emsley told the AP that local police have determined that it is not that of an active missing person.
The skull is now in the care of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command on Oahu, whose Central Identification Laboratory is the US’s only accredited Skeletal Identification Laboratory. The lab has been successful in identifying the remains of more than 560 Americans killed in action since opening in 2003, approximately one MIA every four days. The lab’s director, John Byrd, told the AP that tests would look at DNA and dental records. Nevertheless Byrd insists upon how little is currently known, “At this point it’s just a hypothesis, it’s not a conclusion,” he said.
If the remains are indeed determined to be Japanese, they will likely be brought back to Japan, Kohei Niitsu, an official at Japan’s Ministry of Health told the AP. Daniel Martinez, the National Park Service’s chief historian for Pearl Harbor, said that enough information is known about where Japanese planes went down that, if in fact the skull is that of a Japanese crewmember, its exact identity might be able to be pinpointed.
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