In 2006, Dan King was surfing the web and came across a Japanese WWII Naval cap for sale on ebay. The seller said it came from his dead uncle's foot locker and he knew little other than his uncle had seen action in the Solomons campaign.
After noticing the Japanese cap had a name and rank inside, and getting a strong hunch that the family could be located, I bid on and won the auction.
Over the next several years I tried to find the family of the Japanese naval cap's original owner through various Japanese websites and naval organizations but with no luck.
In Dec 2009 at the urging of a Japanese author, Ms. Yukie Sasa, and a WWII Solomon campaign survivor, Mr. Yasuo Yamamiya, I submitted a formal request to the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare to search for the dead sailor's family. Both Ms. Sasa and Mr. Yamamiya kindly sent follow-up letters to the Government. Finally in Sept 2010 a reply came that the dead sailor's brother was still alive and would be grateful to have his older brother's cap. The brother, Mr. Masamichi Shiraishi, had no information about his brother's death or even where he died.
Following protocol, I mailed the cap to Ms. Sasa who sent it to the Japanese Government representative, Ms. Sekine, who sent it to the Ehime prefecture local government rep who gave it to the younger brother Mr. Michimasa Shiraishi.
I received a very nice letter from the family thanking me for my efforts to return the cap which is the only physical reminder that remains from the dead navy sailor. And the story was also featured on a Japnese newspaper (PDF).
Who was the Japanese sailor who was killed in action?
Name: Yasu Shiraishi
Rank: Leading Seaman 1st Class
Job: Naval Construction (Seabee)
Unit: 88th Naval Defense Unit
Last known station: Bougainville area, Admiralty islands
Date of death: Between March 8 - May 6 1944.
Q: Where did the 88th Naval Defense Unit see action?
A: Manus Island, Admiralties Islands, South Pacific.
It is believed that Leading Seaman 1st Class Shiraishi landed on Manus island with his unit in Dec. 1943 and died sometime in March, April or May 1944.
HISTORY of the battle of MANUS island:
In 1943 the Japanese Military began implementing the policy of strengthening it's defenses in New Britain and New Guinea. On Manus Island - the largest of the Admiralty chain, they were preparing to build an island fortress similar to the one at Rabaul, New Britain.
April 8, 1943 the Japanese landed 850 men from the 51st Supply Regiment on the islands of Manus and Los Negros (separated by a narrow sea straight) to begin the process of constructing airfields. These were not combat troops.
December 1943 the Japanese Navy landed on Manus island 1,140 men from the 88th Naval Defense battalion (mostly unarmed construction engineers) and the 36th Naval Anti-aircraft Unit, and others. The were tasked with building an airfield at Lorengau.
January 25, 1944 the Japanese Army landed the 1st Mixed Independent Regiment's 2nd Battalion and the 229th Regiment's 1st Battalion on the island of Los Negros. These were combat troops.
February 29, As part of the US Naval island hopping campaign to re-take the Philippines the American forces invaded Los Negros.
March 15, 1944 the US forces landed on Manus Island.
March 27, 1944 The surviving Japanese Army units on Los Negros were ordered to Manus island to consolidate with the Japanese naval units to stave off the US invasion.
May 6, 1944 The Japanese on Manus Island were annihilated. Shortly afterwards the Japanese attempted to re-take the island by landing troops but that too, was destroyed.
This is a Japanese history magazine called Rekishigunzo. They did a story on the return of the WWII Navy cap.