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New Declassified Documents Solve World War II Mystery

Hideki Tojo

Until now, where executed wartime Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo was buried was one of the biggest World War II mysteries in the nation he once ruled.

A Japanese university professor has finally revealed declassified U.S. military documents that have the answer to where the remains of one of the masterminds behind the Pearl Harbor attack are located.

The documents show that the cremated ashes of Tojo were scattered from a U.S. Army aircraft over the Pacific Ocean about 30 miles east of Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city.

The mission was apparently highly secretive. American officials went to extreme measures to keep Tojo’s remains, and those of six others executed with him, away from Japanese nationalists. The seven were hanged for war crimes just before Christmas in 1948, three years after Japan’s defeat.

This discovery gives partial closure to a painful time in Japanese. Even today, conservative Japanese politicians attempt to whitewash history from that time. This has led to tension with wartime victims, especially China and South Korea.

After years of verifying details and evaluating the evidence, Nihon University Professor Hiroaki Takazawa publicly released the clues to where the remains are located this week. Takazawa disocvered the declassified documents in 2018 at the U.S. National Archives in Washington. It’s believed to be the first time that official documents showing the handling of those seven war criminals’ remains were made public, according to Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies and the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records.

Tojo’s great-grandson, Hidetoshi Tojo, told The Associated Press that not knowing where his great grandfather was buried has long been a humiliation for the family.

“If his remains were at least scattered in Japanese territorial waters … I think he was still somewhat fortunate,” Tojo said. “I want to invite my friends and lay flowers to pay tribute to him.”

Hideki Tojo, who was the Japanese prime minister during much of World War II, is idolized by some Japanese conservatives as a patriot, but hated by people in the West for prolonging the war, which ended only after the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

About a month after August 15, 1945, when then-Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s defeat, Tojo shot himself in a failed suicide attempt as he was about to be arrested at his Tokyo home.

Tojo and the six others who were hanged were among 28 Japanese wartime leaders tried for war crimes at the 1946-1948 International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Twenty-five of them were convicted, including 16 sentenced to life in prison, with two getting shorter prison terms. Two others died while on trial and one case was dropped.

In one of the newly revealed documents, dated Dec. 23, 1948, U.S. Army Maj. Luther Frierson wrote, “I certify that I received the remains, supervised cremation, and personally scattered the ashes of the following executed war criminals at sea from an Eighth Army liaison plane.”

U.S. officials had to be extremely careful as to not leave even a single speck of ashes behind in order to prevent them from being stolen by admiring ultra-nationalists, according to Takazawa.

“In addition to their attempt to prevent the remains from being glorified, I think the U.S. military was adamant about not letting the remains return to Japanese territory … as an ultimate humiliation,” Takazawa said.

Here’s how the operation went down.

At 2:10 a.m. on Dec. 23, 1948, caskets carrying the bodies of Tojo and the six others were loaded on a 2.5-ton truck and taken out of the prison after fingerprinting for verification, Frierson wrote in a Jan. 4, 1949 document.

About an hour and a half later, the motorcade guarded by truckloads of armed soldiers to protect the bodies arrived at a U.S. military graves registration platoon in Yokohama for a final check.

The truck left the area at 7:25 a.m. and arrived at a Yokohama crematorium 30 minutes later. The caskets were unloaded from the truck and placed directly “in the ovens” in 10 minutes, while soldiers guarded the area.

The remains were then transported under guard to a nearby airstrip and loaded onto a plane that Frierson boarded. “We proceeded to a point approximately 30 miles over the Pacific Ocean east of Yokohama where I personally scattered the cremated remains over a wide area.”

Today, even without the ashes, bereaved families and conservative Japanese lawmakers such as former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe regularly pay tribute at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, where the executed war criminals are enshrined with 2.5 million war dead considered “sacred spirits” in the Shinto religion. No remains are enshrined at Yasukuni.