UB Anthropologist to Travel to Micronesian Island to Interview Veterans of Bloody World War II Battle

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: September 9, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- An archaeologist from the University at Buffalo will interview veterans of the World War II Battle of Peleliu during its 50th reunion ceremonies as part of a larger research project to study the remains of Japanese -- and possibly American -- soldiers buried in caves on the Micronesian island.

Stuart Scott, Ph.D., UB associate professor of anthropology, plans to attend the ceremonies on Sept. 12-14 to gather veterans' impressions on the same island where they were wounded. The event represents "one window of opportunity to talk to them on the battlefield," Scott says.

Veterans from both sides, including the widow of a Japanese commander, are expected to attend the ceremonies on the island, which is only two miles wide and five miles long. Peleliu is part of the Palauan archipelago.

The interviews are part of a larger multi-national study, begun in the summer of 1992, by UB anthropologists -- in cooperation with the University of Guam and Japanese and Micronesian officials -- to bring an anthropological perspective to the historical circumstances surrounding the war-related conflict.

Researchers plan to conduct a forensic analysis of caves on the island that contain the remains of several thousand Japanese soldiers, and possibly those of American MIAs. The caves were sealed by American forces at the end of the 1944 invasion campaign, one of the bloodiest and most costly battles of the war. Researchers hope to determine who is in the caves, how old they were, their health status prior to death and cause of death.

Peleliu's political problems have delayed the field research, originally slated for the summer of 1993. Yet "in terms of our goals, the study is still the same," says Joyce Sirianni, Ph.D., UB vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School who heads the research team with Scott.

Field research now is scheduled for the summer of 1995 or 1996, says Sirianni, a SUNY distinguished teaching professor of anthropology.

The information gathered by Scott during the reunion ceremonies will help researchers identify an excavation site and will bring a human aspect to the study from those on both sides of the battle, she says. "It's very important to get the oral history. It's a vital part of the research," she notes.

"The psychology of it is interesting," says Scott, who also has been conducting interviews of Western New York war veterans. He says he often asks veterans only one question and the rest of the information "comes flooding out at you."

The central Pacific campaign of World War II and the series of battles through which American forces claimed Peleliu and neighboring islands from the Japanese were among the fiercest human conflicts ever recorded. Less than 300 of the 13,500-man Japanese garrison survived the Battle of Peleliu, and several thousand Americans were killed, wounded or missing in action.