Photo Kurt Reese
By Travis J. Tritten - Stars and Stripes
A plaque looted from a World War II destroyer sunk off Okinawa has been returned, but the mystery surrounding its disappearance remains.
The builder’s plaque on the USS Emmons was pried from inside the shipwreck sometime last year by scuba-diving thieves, triggering a Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation in September and an appeal by Okinawa divers that the historic plaque be returned.
The trail went cold for months, and many believed the artifact would never be recovered.
Then on April 7 — one day after the anniversary of the ship’s sinking in 1945 — a package arrived in the mail for Yukio Murata, chairman of the Okinawa Diving Safety Council.
It had been sent from a Naha post office and the only evidence of the sender was the name “Jason” written in Japanese characters, Murata told Stars and Stripes on Friday.
The missing Emmons plaque, a record of the laying of the destroyer’s keel by the Bath Iron Works in 1940 that had rested in the darkness of 135 feet of ocean for over six decades, was inside the package.
Murata, whose efforts were key in recovering the stolen plaque, immediately turned the plaque over to NCIS.
Murata said when he learned of the theft, he offered his help to NCIS, American dive groups and a USS Emmons veteran group in the United States. He also contacted about 300 dive shops on the island to ask that the thief return the artifact.
“I felt there were spirits who are still in that ship and it was important to return the plaque to them,” said Murata, who was presented Friday with a $1,500 reward by the Okinawa Underwater Explorers dive group for his help finding the ship plaque.