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Former member of military police battalion takes up the case of a missing statue

by Louise George Kittaka

Special To The Japan Times

Lifelines was recently contacted by Jack Marquardt, who served with the United States Army’s 720th Military Police Battalion in Tokyo from 1946-48. Jack, who still calls Tokyo home, is trying to locate a statue of significance to the battalion and its veterans. He shared the story of the battalion’s activities in Japan and I’d like to summarize the details here.

During the Allied Occupation (1945-52), the men of the battalion, usually just called the 720 MPs, took on the role of police officers in Tokyo. Established in the United States in 1942, the MPs were first shipped to Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, before arriving in Japan in 1945.

The duties of the several hundred members of the battalion included conducting patrols on foot and by jeep around central Tokyo, directing traffic and guarding various Allied installations. They also cooperated closely with the Japanese police and, aside from the language barrier, it seems the two groups worked well together.

Early in 1946, the 720 MPs established their first permanent base near Nakano Station in Tokyo. The following year, a life-size statue was erected to commemorate Sgt. Frederick A. Burness Jr., the first member of the battalion to die in action in 1943, after his plane crashed into the sea near Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. After a fire in 1948, the 720 MPs moved to a new location in Tokyo’s Tsukiji district, the former Japanese Naval Academy near the Sumida River and the statue went, too. The Tsukiji base was formally named Camp Burness that same year.

The 720 MPs remained in Tsukiji until 1953, when three of the four companies in the battalion moved to the Marunouchi district near Tokyo Station, while the fourth relocated to Camp Drake in Saitama Prefecture. At this point, the name Camp Burness was no longer used and it is unclear whether the statue was moved since no records exist on the matter. In 1955 the entire battalion was shipped to Fort Hood, Texas, where it is still based today. It is known that the statue did not accompany them, and its current location remains a mystery.

The veterans of the 720th Military Police Reunion Association would love to find out what happened to the statue, particularly those members who served here in Tokyo during the Occupation. Jack says that after the battalion left the Tsukiji location, the Tokyo Family Court used the buildings, and then in the 1960s the entire facility was razed and the area was taken over by the Tsukiji Fish Market. Today, all that remains on the site is a small museum about the Kachidoki Bridge and a monument to the former Imperial Naval Academy.

Jack and his fellow veterans are hoping that a long-term resident of Japan may have knowledge about the area and will be able to shed some light on what happened to the statue of Sgt. Burness.

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for the NHK Nodo Jiman show, among other things. Send comments and questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.