Hikers Find Skeleton That Goes Way, Way Back

Giichi Matsumura had left the Manzanar internment camp to paint
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 4, 2020 3:30 PM CST
Hikers Find Skeleton That Recalls Grim WWII Era
This undated photo provided by the Matsumura family via the National Park Service shows Giichi Matsumura during his incarceration at an internment camp for people of Japanese ancestry in Manzanar, Calif., during World War II.   (Matsumura Family/National Park Service via AP)

A skeleton found by hikers this fall near California's second-highest peak was identified Friday as a Japanese American artist who had left the Manzanar internment camp to paint in the mountains in the waning days of World War II, the AP reports. The Inyo County sheriff used DNA to identify the remains of Giichi Matsumura, who succumbed to the elements during a freak summer snowstorm while on a hiking trip with other members of the camp. Matsumura had apparently stopped to paint a watercolor while the other men, a group of anglers, continued toward a lake to fish. His body wasn't found for another month, and the tragedy was overshadowed in the immediate days after his Aug. 2, 1945 disappearance when the US dropped the first atomic bomb, hastening Japan’s surrender in the war.

Matsumura was one of over 1,800 detainees who died in the 10 prison camps in the West, though it's an unusual death. While his burial in the mountains was well known among members of the camp and his family, the story faded over time and the location of the grave site in a remote boulder-strewn area 12,000 feet above sea level was lost to time. Lori Matsumura, the granddaughter who provided the DNA sample, was surprised when Sgt. Nate Derr of the Inyo County sheriff’s office contacted her to say they believed her grandfather's remains had been discovered. After all, he had been found nearly 75 years ago and buried. "It was a bit of a rediscovery," she says. "We knew where he was approximately because we knew the story of what happened. So we knew he was there."

(More World War II stories.)

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