Allied Atrocities: We boiled the flesh off enemy skulls

Published: 1994-01-01

Kenneth V. Iserson

"Japanese skulls were much-envied trophies among U.S. Marines in the Pacific theater during World War II. The practice of collecting them apparently began after the bloody conflict on Guadalcanal, when the troops set up the skulls as ornaments or totems atop poles as a type of warning. The Marines boiled the skulls and then used lye to remove any residual flesh so they would be suitable as souvenirs. U.S. sailors cleaned their trophy skulls by putting them in nets and dragging them behind their vessels. Winfield Townley Scott wrote a wartime poem, 'The U.S. Sailor with the Japanese Skull" that detailed the entire technique of preserving the headskull as a souvenir. In 1943 Life magazine published the picture of a U.S. sailor's girlfriend contemplating a Japanese skull sent to her as a gift - with a note written on the top of the skull. Referring to this practice, Edward L. Jones, a U.S. war correspondent in the Pacific wrote in the February 1946 Atlantic Magazine, "We boiled the flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones into letter-openers." On occasion, these "Japanese trophy skulls" have confused police when they have turned up during murder investigations. It has been reported that when the remains of Japanese soldiers were repatriated from the Mariana Islands in 1984, sixty percent were missing their skulls."

Source: Kenneth V. Iserson, M.D., Death to Dust: What happens to Dead Bodies?, Galen Press, Ltd. Tucson, AZ. 1994. p. 382.

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Author(s): Kenneth V. Iserson
Title: Allied Atrocities: We boiled the flesh off enemy skulls
Sources: "Death to Dust: What happens to Dead Bodies?", Galen Press, Ltd. Tucson, AZ. 1994. p.382
Published: 1994-01-01
First posted on CODOH: June 29, 1995, 7 p.m.
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