World War II

The 1945 Katsuyama Killing Incident

The Katsuyama killing incident in 1945 was a killing of three Marines by Okinawans from the Katsuyama village near Nago, Okinawa, after the Battle of Okinawa, shortly before the end of the war in the Pacific. Many years later some of the villagers confessed that every weekend three United States Marines had allegedly been visiting the village around that time and every time they violently took the village women into the hills with them and raped them. When the Marines started to confidently carry out their weekly ritual unarmed, the villagers reportedly overwhelmed the men one time and killed all three. Their bodies were hidden in the nearby cave out of fear for retaliation against the village, a village secret until 1997.


Villagers revealed long after the attack that the Marines were so confident that the villagers were powerless that they came to the village without weapons. Taking advantage of this, the villagers ambushed them with the help of two armed Japanese soldiers who were hiding in the nearby jungle. Shinsei Higa, who was sixteen at the time, remembers that “I didn’t see the actual killing because I was hiding in the mountains above, but I heard five or six gunshots and then a lot of footsteps and commotion. By late afternoon, we came down from the mountains and then everyone knew what had happened.”

To cover up the deaths, the bodies were dumped in a local cave that had a 50-foot (15-m) drop-off close to its entrance.

When the men did not return to their Marine Corps posts, they were listed as possible deserters in the summer of 1945. After a year with still no evidence of what happened to them, they were declared missing in action.


Kijun Kishimoto was almost thirty during the incident and grew up in Katsuyama. He was away from the village when the men were killed. In an interview, he said, “People were very afraid that if the Americans found out what happened there would be retaliation, so they decided to keep it a secret to protect those involved.”

Finally, a guilty conscience led Kishimoto to contact Setsuko Inafuku (稲福節子), a tour guide for Kadena United States Air Base in Okinawa, whose deceased son Clive was also a victim of sexual assault, and who was involved in the search for deceased servicemen from the war. The two searched for the cave in June 1997, but could not find it until August, when a storm blew down a tree which had been blocking the entrance. The local Japanese police were informed but they kept it secret for a few months to protect the people who discovered the location of the bodies.

When they finally told Marine officials, the USMC located the bodies in the cave. Using dental records all men were identified as the 19-year-old Marines who went missing in 1945. Their names were Pfc. James D. Robinson of Savannah, Ga., Pfc. John M. Smith of Cincinnati, and Pvt. Isaac Stokes of Chicago. The cause of death could not be determined for any of the Marines that had been recovered from the cave.


No plans were made to criminally investigate the incident by either the United States military or the Okinawa police.

After the Battle of Okinawa, the island chain was occupied under the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands until 1972. At that time, the U.S. government returned the islands to Japanese administration. Under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, the United States Forces Japan (USFJ) have maintained a large military presence: 27,000 personnel, including 15,000 Marines, contingents from the Navy, Army, and Air Force, and their 22,000 family members are stationed in Okinawa.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article 1945 Katsuyama killing incident, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.
Roopkund Lake

Mystery and Skeletons Lake

In 1942, a British ranger at Nanda Devi National Park in the north of India was patrolling the mountains when he came across a lake in a canyon. At such a high altitude (over 5000 metres) Roopkund Lake had frozen entirely. When he looked in the frozen lake, he was shocked to see human skeletons.

Who goes there?

At this time during World War II the British, who were occupying India, were terrified of opposing Japanese troops approaching through the Himalayas. The ranger informed local forces and it was assumed that the people that had been found were advancing Japanese soldiers who had not made it through the mountains. Upon closer inspection, it became apparent that this was not the case. But who were they and where did they come from?

The sheer volume of bodies only became apparent when the lake had thawed entirely. At the bottom of the lake were approximately 300 dead humans, nearly all of which had suffered the same fate. Their skulls and bodies showed signs of blows to the head. But still, no-one knew exactly what had happened here at Roopkund Lake.

Human Skeletons in Roopkund Lake

By Schwiki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of the bodies were removed and inspected. The cold temperatures at this altitude has preserved not just the bones, but also some skin and hair. A clue lied alongside the bodies. Iron spear heads and leather slippers were found which suggested that these bodies had been here for a lot longer than anyone realised.

Now known to locals as Mystery and Skeletons Lake, the bodies and surrounding area was investigated for years, with no one getting any closer to what might have happened. For more than 60 years, the mystery went unsolved and theory after theory was put forward. Some thought it was the site of a mass suicide and others thought they might be Tibetan traders who got lost and succumbed to the altitude. But no theory would hold up under intense speculation.

Finding answers in Roopkund

In 2004, an expedition to the uninhabited region was taken by National Geographic filmmakers who enlisted the help of various professors and doctors from around the world to put an end to the mystery once and for all.

Using the latest carbon dating methods at Oxford University, the bodies were found to have come from the 9th century, long before anyone thought. Intriguingly, all of the people were found to have died at roughly the same time.

Archaeologists from Delhi University were able to ascertain that the dead were from two separate groups of people, one noticeably taller than the other. Due to some of the marking on the skulls, it is suggested that the smaller group were the porters, carrying the belongings of the taller people.

A paleopathologist at a college in Pune, India, noticed that a lot of the bones had similar abnormalities, suggesting that a lot of the dead people were related by blood, thus ruling out that this was an army. This was a group of men, women and children.

Why were they there?

There is no historical trade route to Tibet through the area, so that theory was ruled out also. The area near Roopkund Lake is, however, along an important pilgrimage route. The pilgrimage, known as the Nanda Devi Raj Jat is part of a Hindu festival that takes place every 12 years and ends right by Roopkund Lake.

Trekking path to Roopkund

Trekking path to Roopkund – By Djds4rce (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This journey is a tough one because of the extreme terrain it goes through. According to local mythology, a King once took some dancers to this sacred spot. Due to heavy snowfall, the people were trapped and the dancers were transformed into skeletons and stones. A second myth is that the king’s wife was pregnant and as she was giving birth, her placenta flowed down to Roopkund and this caused the death of the people there.

How did these people all die?

There were no injuries consistent with an avalanche, so this was also ruled out. But another clue was to come from Professor Dr William Sax, the head of anthropology at Heidelberg University in Germany. He had spent years studying the local people in the area and had recalled a traditional song that the women in the area sang.

The song told of how the goddess, Nanda, would strike down anyone who did not believe in her with hailstones as “hard as iron”. As the bodies that had been found suffered injuries consistent with large, cricket ball sized objects falling from great heights, it was determined that these people had been the victims of an unexpected, violent hailstorm. The mystery that had been lying under the surface of a frozen lake for 1200 years was solved.