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Ceremony took place on Banadero, Marpi on Sept. 11

By Raquel C. Bagnol SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Sept. 15, 2011) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), intense research, investigation, and proper identification processes were completed before the remains of the 575 Japanese soldiers who died here during the World War II were cremated at the old airport in Banadero, Marpi on Sept. 11, 2011, Paupau Tours president Etsuko Yasui Muna said.

Her company was among those who helped facilitate the excavation and the cremation rites.

She said Kuentai, a Japanese non-profit organization that facilitated the excavation, followed certain requirements and procedures before the actual cremation took place.

Muna showed this reporter a 60-page report on the project done by archaeologists Randy A. Harper, Marilyn K. Swift and principal investigator Michael A. Fleming of the Swift and Harper Archaeological Resource Consulting.

The report showed that the Kuentai Bereavement Group made the request to the Swift and Harper Archaeological Resource Consulting on May 4, 2011 to do a backhoe testing program to determine the location of the remains of the Japanese soldiers.

The objective of the project was to recover the physical remains of the Japanese soldiers and to return them to the Japanese government.

The report showed that three previous testing and data recovery programs were conducted in the area where the mass graves were located in Achugao, Tanapag in 1990, 1991 and 1995. The testing and data recovery programs were in compliance with the U.S. 1935 Historic Sites Act, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the 1980 National Historic Preservation Act amendments as well as CNMI Public Laws 3-33 and 3-39 which pertain to the removal or treatment of human remains for historic preservation.

The report further stated that the recovery team excavated a total of 77 trenches all over the area — 37 trenches from May 21-24 and 40 more trenches from June 27 to July 3 before the mass grave was finally located containing 547 sets of human remains.

Twenty-eight of the remains cremated had been excavated earlier and stored by the Historic Preservation Office (HPO).

The report stated that all the trench excavations were monitored by archaeologists, and the bones were identified to belong to Japanese soldiers.

Muna said the bones or skeletal remains that were not identified as Japanese were not touched but returned to HPO for safekeeping.

The archaeologists said tallies were kept of the number of skulls recovered and cross referenced with the total number of bones like femurs and tibias, to identify how many sets of human remains were recovered.

Also retrieved from the mass graves were rifles or machine guns which the soldiers carried when they died, as well as grenades, bayonets and knives, helmets, water canteens and a Japanese canister with medicine to counteract poison.

According to the report, in addition to backhoe trenching, a metal detector was also utilized over portions of the project to identify subsurface metal. This method proved effective and yielded Japanese military canteens, belt buckles, buckets, wire, ribbed rebar, a mess cup, nails, metal braces, ammunition, ordnance, miscellaneous metals, and shrapnel.

In an interview on Sunday, Kuentai secretary general Usan Kurata said a photo by W. Eugene Smith published in the Time-Life magazine on Aug. 1, 1944 showed an American bulldozer digging a mass grave for some of the 2,000 Japanese who died in a final banzai attack on July 7 of that year. Kurata said this showed that Americans buried the Japanese soldiers in the mass grave, and it would be impossible for them to include U.S. soldiers in the grave.

Kurata said it is estimated that there are still 26,000 more remains of Japanese soldiers on Saipan, adding that they will continue to retrieve them.

The cremation rites on Sept. 11 started at about 9:30 a.m. and ended at about 5 p.m.

"We had to allow the ashes to cool off before putting them in six separate containers. The ashes were transported to Japan on Monday for proper burial," Muna said.

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