Ruby City surrenders remains of Japanese soldier.
The skull seemed a daunting thing, amid the trove of worldly antiquities, fine jewelry, rare gems and ancient fossils. It was an austere war relic, and for more than half a century it loomed in the vast collection of Franklin’s Ruby City Gem and Mineral museum.
From temple to temple, crossing the tip of the skull, grim words were written in black.
“Made in Japan. Tried in the Solomons and Found Wanting.”
The words were, supposedly, written by a U.S. Marine gunner C.N. Baumand, signed 1942. The hand-drawn mark of the U.S. Marine symbol adorned the center of the message.
But last year, after decades of being showcased as an artifact in the establishment’s inventory, Ruby City proprietors were asked in an email to remove the item by the Japanese Consulate.
An anonymous woman from South Carolina contacted the Japanese Embassy after seeing the skull, alerting them of the possible find.
Through the years, the remains sat as a comparison to both a shrunken head and another skull some believe may be a Neanderthal skull, surrounded by Ruby City’s collection of pre-Columbian and Rhodochrosite artifacts.
The skull had always been believed to be remains taken from the field of the Battle of the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. The marine gunner, according to Ruby City proprietor Kevin Klatt, was thought to have been court-martialled for the act.
“We really didn’t know what to think,” said Klatt of the request to remove the skull. “It meant a lot to us that we proceeded appropriately.”
After confirming that it was, in fact, the Japanese Consulate making the request, Klatt obliged, and had even sent some requested pictures of the remains to the consulate for verification. “After finding out about it all, we wanted to make sure we were going about it right.”
As time passed, Ruby City went about its business, passively wondering what the consulate would have to report back.
This summer, Ruby City got its answer.
In a letter dated June 19, it was determined that the skull was believed to be of Japanese origin, according to a letter signed by Joji Miyamori, Acting Consul General in Atlanta.
On July 6, Ruby City received a letter from Kazuhiro Sakaue, Senior Researcher of the Department of Anthropology of Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science, stating the actual findings. “After examination of detailed photographs kindly provided by Ruby City, and analyzing the bone morphological characteristics, as well as taking into account the writings on the skull and its history, it was determined with very high probability that the skull belonged to an individual of Japanese origin.”
Sakaue said in the letter that the skull’s features indicated that the skull perhaps belonged to a “young adult” of East Asian descent.
Subsequently the department requested that it be allowed to retrieve the remains of the fallen Japanese soldier. Their intent, they wrote, was to return the remains to Japan at its final resting place of Chidori-ga-fuchi. The letter added that it was paramount to the agency to see that such remains make their way “safely back to Japan, as this procedure has been carried out as national priority since 1952.”
“The Consulate-General of Japan recognizes Mr. Ernest F. Klatt, the founder of Ruby City Gems and Minerals, Mr. Ernest A. Klatt, the retired owner of Ruby City, and Mr. Charles Klatt, the current proprietor, in appreciation of their care and respect for the remains of an unknown Japanese World War II soldier,” reads a letter signed by the Consulate General. It added that the remains would be honored each year at their resting place on Aug. 15 at Nippon Budokan by the Emperor of Japan. “The return of the skull which rested here would not have been possible without the help of Ruby City Gems and Minerals.”
But after all these years, how had the relic found its way to Franklin?
According to Ruby City, it was acquired along with part of the original Ruby City collection by local man Ellis Soper in the early ’50s.
Klatt’s grandfather, Ernest Klatt, had purchased another portion of the existing collection, and later in 1954, purchased the rest of Soper’s antiquities as part of a package deal, which included the skull.
The cost of the purchase remains unknown, even to Klatt.
“My grandfather has never divulged that to anybody,” he said. “There is no monetary value particularly placed on this. It was purchased by Ellis Soper as part of the stuff he collected.”
Four years after the skull’s purchase, it was put on display as part of the complete Ruby City collection. It remains a mystery as to how Soper acquired the remains, says Klatt. The skull has seldom been handled since that time, when the museum moved from U.S. 441 North, then to present day DeSoto Trail Realty on the Highlands Road in 1964, to the store’s now current location since 1981.
“It’s stayed behind glass pretty much this entire time,” explained Klatt. “Other than relocating it from case to case, this has never been touched ... It’s been simply left alone.”
Whereas countless Ruby City patrons over the years had glimpsed the eerie relic, Klatt has always perceived the skull as a fascinating historical item. “It’s always been treated as an artifact and labeled as such,” he said, adding that he had always been drawn to that particular portion of the collection throughout his life. “It’s been on display since before I was born and it’s one of the things I’ve always remembered.”
As Klatt explained this, the Deputy Consul General Joji Miyamori entered the museum. Politely he introduced himself.
“We appreciate that you are cooperating to return the remains to Japan,” said Miyamori, reconfirming in person the findings of Sakaue.
Asked whether the identity of the soldier could ever be determined, Miyamori replied, “Before cremating the remains we [will] take the DNA, but that was more than 50 years ago. I think it would be very difficult. There is a very, very small possibility.” He explained that many family members of Japanese soldiers had given their DNA to the government in the years following the war, largely to help identify fallen soldiers.
Klatt handed the remains to Miyamori, who wrapped the cardboard box encased skull in a black velvet cloth. Miyamori handled the task and remains with great care and respect, then gave the proprietor mementos of Japan, including some information about the country along with a ceremonial kimono.
As quickly as he came, Miyamori quietly and respectfully left with his assistant.
“I did not have any intention of not letting them have it back,” said Klatt. We wanted to fill the void ... We would want no less of trying to recover American remains in a foreign country during war.”