SYDNEY – Nineteen Japanese airmen killed in combat in Australia during World War II and buried as unknowns in graves at Cowra War Cemetery near Sydney have been identified, historian Bob Piper said Friday.
All 19 were killed during a Japanese air raid on Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory in November 1942. Their graves, marked “unknown Japanese,” were moved to Cowra in the 1950s when the war cemetery there was established.
Nine of the dead were shot down in a Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber flown by Air Petty Officer 1st Class Kiyoshi Akamatsu and a crew of eight. Another eight were killed in a Mitsubishi Ki21 Type 97 “Sally” bomber, while two airmen died in an Aichi D3A2 Type 99 “Val” dive bomber.
The airmen’s identities were established after more than two years of work with help from Noritake Kitazawa, a retired Japanese officer who is a volunteer with the Tokyo-based War History section of the Self-Defense Forces, Piper told Kyodo News.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in Tokyo was informed of the identification of the remains, but the department has been “reluctant” to tell relatives, Piper said.
He suggested the reluctance stems from concern that the government would face considerable expense if it had to pay for the families of the dead airmen to visit their kin in Australia.
The Canberra-based Office of Australia War Graves has offered to place names on the graves free of charge, but it is awaiting approval from Japan, he said.
“It will give peace to the families and put the matter to rest,” Piper said.
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