World War II Loot Found in a Massachusetts Home Is Returned to Okinawa

During the brutal Battle of Okinawa in Japan, in the final months of World War II, a group of American soldiers took residence in the palace of a royal family who had fled the fighting. When a palace steward returned after the war was over, he said later, the treasure was gone.

Some of those valuables surfaced decades later in the attic of the Massachusetts home of a World War II veteran, whom the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not identify in announcing the find last week.

The veteran’s family discovered the cache of vibrant paintings and pottery; large fragile scrolls; and an intricate hand-drawn map after his death last year, and they reported the discovery to the agency’s Art Crime Team.

Geoffrey Kelly, a special agent and the art theft coordinator for the bureau’s Boston field office, was assigned to the case and brought the artifacts to the National Museum of Asian Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The recovered items were returned to Okinawa in January, and a formal repatriation ceremony is planned to take place next month in Japan.

“It’s an exciting moment when you watch the scrolls unfurl in front of you, and you just witness history, and you witness something that hasn’t been seen by many people in a very long time,” he said.

Verified by Smithsonian experts as authentic artifacts of the erstwhile Ryukyu Kingdom, a 450-year-old dynasty that ruled in Okinawa as a tributary state of the Ming dynasty of China, the F.B.I. turned the items over to the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command. Its cultural heritage specialists returned the precious pieces to Okinawa.

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