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Sierra Skeleton ID'd as 'Ghost of Manzanar'

Sierra Skeleton ID'd as 'Ghost of Manzanar'
This photo provided by the Inyo County Sheriff's Office shows Mount Williamson, where authorities say the skeletal remains of a person were discovered on Oct. 7. (Inyo County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

Friday, 03 January 2020 09:51 PM

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 Inyo County sheriff used DNA to identify the remains of Giichi Matsumura, who succumbed to the elements during a freak summer snow storm during 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 U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb, hastening Japan’s surrender in the war. Matsumura was one of more than 1,800 detainees who died in the 10 prison camps in the West, though it's one of the more unusual deaths.

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 told The Associated Press. “We knew where he was approximately because we knew the story of what happened. So we knew he was there.”

As a girl, she was haunted by a photo her grandmother showed her of the pile of stones where her grandfather was buried beneath a small marker in the remote mountains.

“Once in a great while, she would bring it out and say, ’Oh, this is all they could bring of your grandfather.’ And my aunt would be, ‘No, don't show her that picture,’” Matsumura said. “It did scare me. I'm like, ’Oh, my God, that's my grandfather under there.’”

Her aunt, Kazue, told her that her grandfather was known as “the ghost of Manzanar.”

“To this day, it seems like he's not passed away,” Kazue, who died two years ago at 83, told the Manzanar National Historic Site. "It seems like he's gone someplace, because I didn't see his body.”

It was by accident on Oct. 7 that Tyler Hofer and a friend stumbled upon the remains on their way to the top of Mount Williamson. The two were off course on a crude route through the jumble of granite boulders in a basin of lakes when Hofer looked down and saw what looked like a bone.

Earlier in the day, the men had discovered a pile of bones beneath Shepherd Pass, where a herd of migrating deer had plummeted to their death two years earlier on a steep, icy slope. At first, Hofer thought the bone was more animal remains, but upon closer inspection he realized it was a human skull.

Hofer and Brandon Follin moved the rocks and found an intact skeleton with a belt around its waist and leather shoes on the feet. The arms appeared to be crossed over the chest.

Hofer posted about his finding on a Facebook forum, describing inaccurately that the skull appeared to be fractured and the shoes were the type worn by rock climbers. He suggested it was a case of foul play.

When contacted by AP, the sheriff’s office said there were no signs of a crime. They said it was a mystery, though, because they had searched records of missing reports going back decades and said no one was known to be lost in the area that would fit that description.

What officials didn’t say, though, was that by the time they had retrieved the bones by helicopter, they already had a hunch it might be Matsumura.

While his story was little known, it got renewed attention when “The Manzanar Fishing Club” documentary film came out in 2012. Director Cory Shiozaki told the story about intrepid prisoners who would escape from the camp at night and slip into the mountains to fish for trout — sometimes for weeks at a time.

A segment of the film on Matsumura’s death didn’t make the final cut. Still, Shiozaki often addressed the tragedy at the many screenings where he spoke and the story became more broadly known.

asked more questions.”

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

   
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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 Inyo County sheriff used DNA to identify...
california, skeleton, manzanar
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2020-51-03
Friday, 03 January 2020 09:51 PM
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