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Japanese families request return of soldiers’ remains from Alaska island

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The grandson of a Japanese colonel who died in a World War II battle on a far western Alaska island is requesting that soldiers’ remains be returned to their homeland.

Nobuyuki Yamazaki made the request during a gathering at an Anchorage library Thursday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Attu, KTVA-TV reported.

The U.S. Army and Japanese troops engaged in May 1943 on the remote Aleutian island of Attu, which is now a federal wildlife refuge. The nearly monthlong battle resulted in thousands of soldiers’ deaths.

A plaque memorializing both Japanese and American soldiers who died during the Battle of Attu during World War II looks out toward Engineer Hill at Attu Island, Alaska, on June 22, 2016. (Army)
A plaque memorializing both Japanese and American soldiers who died during the Battle of Attu during World War II looks out toward Engineer Hill at Attu Island, Alaska, on June 22, 2016. (Army)

Yamazaki read a statement in Japanese during the event that was translated for the audience. He said more than 2,300 Japanese soldiers’ remains are on the island.

“During the war, the U.S. Army buried the Japanese soldiers’ bodies with care, built a memorial, set up a grave post and paid respects to the spirits,” Yamazaki said.

The war-bereaved families want the remains to return home, he said. The families have petitioned the Japanese government and 3,948 signatures have been collected, he said.

“Japanese people find great comfort when the remains of the Japanese are buried in our homeland,” Yamazaki said.

Returning the remains would be major diplomatic and logistical undertaking, but it would not be impossible, said Steve Delehanty, the manager of the federal refuge.

The U.S. and Japan had looked into the possibility several years ago, but the dialogue had eventually stopped, Delehanty said.

Alaska is hosting a variety of activities this month to remember the battle.

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