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Top secret US documents show Japanese civilians fought in Korean War

Part of the top secret documents obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration is seen in the southwestern Japan city of Fukuoka on June 12, 2020. (Mainichi/Toyokazu Tsumura)

KITAKYUSHU -- At least 60 Japanese civilians were taken with U.S. troops to the Korean War which broke out in 1950, and 18 of them were involved in the fighting, according to top secret documents from the United States National Archives and Records Administration obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun.

The files, which were compiled by the U.S., showed that 18 of the 60 Japanese men were under 20 years old and that four of these minors took part in combat. A death certificate for one Japanese person killed on the front lines was also included in the archives, along with a report describing another as missing. The finding comes ahead of the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War on June 25.

It is already known that during the conflict, the Japanese government complied with a U.S. Navy request for the Maritime Safety Agency (the present-day Japan Coast Guard) to secretly assemble a special minesweeper battalion that fulfilled duties including removing sea mines. A total of 57 Japanese people died doing the work and in logistics work for U.S. forces between June 1950 and January 1951. The latest classified documents show that Japanese civilians also took part in combat. One expert hailed the findings, saying, "These are precious documents showing that Japanese people were 'embedded' in the conflict."

The Mainichi Shimbun first learned that Japanese people had traveled to the Korean Peninsula during the conflict from the family of a former worker at a U.S. military base in Japan. Documents related to the information were then obtained from the National Archives in January.

The files come to 843 pages, and include records of interviews with 60 people brought to the Korean Peninsula, as well as records of their personal information, fingerprints, and writing with photographs. Of the 60, 46 of them were of various ages under 30, including some under 20, and one was a 9-year-old child. The oldest was 51. Forty-eight of the people were described as staff at U.S. military bases in Japan, 12 of whom were minors. The occupations of the other 12 people are unknown, though it is known that six of them were minors.

Most of the 60 Japanese people arrived in Korea in around July 1950, shortly after the war started, and returned to Japan some seven months later in January and February 1951. They were questioned by U.S. forces before and after their return. In their recorded remarks, many of them said that they had been asked to go to Korea by a superior officer at the base, and three of the minors who weren't base workers reportedly said they were there as "mascots" for the U.S. military. Among the children was one then aged 13, who had lost both parents in the 1945 U.S. nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, and an orphaned 9-year-old boy who was quoted as saying he was taken by U.S. forces while in Shimane, southwestern Japan.

According to the records, 27 of the 60 people were given weapons including guns and knives, and 18 reported using them in the fighting. At least four people, including a 12-year-old boy, claimed to have killed North Korean soldiers and others. The man in the death certificate is named as "Shigeji Hiratsuka," and the missing person was "Yoshiwara Minefumi." But details such as their place of birth, address and age were not listed.

Concerning the information showing that Japanese civilians were taken to the Korean War, Japan's Ministry of Defense said, "We are not aware of all the facts, and we are not in a position to respond."

Professor Hisao Ohnuma, a specialist in the Cold War and occupation history at Kyoai Gakuen University in the Gunma Prefecture city of Maebashi, in eastern Japan, commented, "At the outset of the Korean War, the Soviet Union and North Korea criticized the United Nations, saying, 'Japanese nationals are fighting with U.N. forces,' but they didn't find any public documents showing that they had directly been involved with the fighting. A further detailed investigation must be carried out."

(Japanese original by Akira Iida, Kyushu News Department)

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