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Man Unsure What To Do With Grandfather’s WWII Japanese Skull Collection


PHOENIX, AZ – At some point or other, most people wind up with too much stuff.  Whether it’s after school, moving, or through inheritance, many either throw it away, donate it, or sell it at a yard sale.

But local man Derrick Shaftoe has a unique problem: he can’t figure out what to do with his grandfather’s collection of Japanese skulls.

Robert Shaftoe, his grandfather, served in World War II with the 3rd Marine Division and fought in the Pacific on Bougainville, Guam, and Iwo Jima.  After the war he came back to Phoenix, where he lived a quiet life until he passed away of natural causes in 2010.

According to Derrick, he first came across the skull collection while sorting through his grandfather’s things after his death.  They were in an old footlocker in the attic, under other wartime souvenirs, such as Japanese flags, swords, and maps.

Derrick vividly remembers finding the skulls, because he says, “my wife heard me screaming from all the way in the front yard.”

“It was like a scene out of the movie Predator,” Derrick said.

In all, there are about twenty skulls, all of which his grandfather carefully labelled and marked with the location and date the man was killed, as well as other useful identifying information.

“My grandfather’s [obsessive compulsive disorder] really came out, especially on the later ones,” Derrick said.

One, for example, has the words “Agana, Guam, July 31st, Sniper, Palm Tree” etched into the back.

Others, especially the ones from Iwo Jima aren’t as methodical, according to Derrick.

“Iwo, February 28, Cave; Iwo, March 4, Cave; Iwo, March 5, Cave.  You really get the impression he wasn’t too happy when he was carving these,” Derrick observed.

Derrick has thought about contacting the Japanese embassy to return them for a proper burial, but isn’t sure he wants the negative publicity.

“After the war my grandfather went on to be a Lutheran Minister and Primary School teacher.  For chrissake, I don’t think I want to add ‘and collector of various human heads’ to his resume.”

As a child, Derrick remembers his grandfather as a kind, quiet man, who rarely talked about the war and went out of his way to be friendly to everyone he met.

Still, there were signs.

When he was ten, Derrick invited his grandfather to come and talk to his fourth grade class about the war.

“My teacher asked him if he ever missed home during the war.  So he started telling us about this time on Bougainville he had to bulldoze a hundred Japanese corpses into a mass grave and then incinerate them for health reasons.  He talked about sitting there in the jungle, reading love letters from my grandmother, by the light of the burning bodies.  It was genuinely the most fucked up thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” Derrick said.

“Then he mentioned something about a giant lizard and the story went completely off the rails.”

According to Derrick, one of the biggest questions he has is how his grandfather managed to carry a footlocker’s worth of skulls around during the war.

“I honestly can’t believe he carried these around with him.  I guess he must have mailed them home, but I’m trying to imagine my grandmother holding on to them.”

“I freaked out over a snake in my garage last week, but there’s my Grandma Lenore , calmly opening box after box of human skulls and sorting through them.”

“Man,” he added, “those were some hard motherfuckers back then.”

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  1. I’m not sure whether to rate Devon’s comment as a WIN based on its sincerity and throughness or FAIL based on its density. That or it was a high-end troll; tough to discern. Either way she set a new standard to which all other noobs should aspire. Well done, softhearted hippie. Now go haze yourself with one hour of staring at a tree then knife-hand yourself in the throat, meanwhile I’m going to smash those skulls to powder to make fertilizer for my American rose bushes. ‘Merica wins!

  2. Devon, take a step back and actually look at the website you are on. It’s the Duffel Blog. It’s a military satire news site in the vein of The Onion. Then read your comment again. Then facepalm.

  3. Dude, your grandfather was a skull collector of the people he killed. It is a part of his resume before he became a Lutheran Minister and Primary School teacher.

    Like a serial killer starting off young, collecting souvenirs from being thrown into horrors without a healthy guidance on how to handle it. A young (kid) man will only respond to those horrors in the best way that he can. Only limited by the tools nature has given him. These are survival tactics.

    I saw a WWII photo of a tank garnished with skulls, (really beautifully dune) I thought it was at first a float in a “Day of the Dead” parade, but it wasn’t, it was war. It had to be from the Korean War or Vietnam War, not WWII when Americans had morals. They were Japanese skulls attached to a US tank in the Pacific Islands.
    For me I saw one soldiers that was so disturbed by what he had to do to survive he used his natural talents to survive, his artistic talents. The tank was gorgeous until I found out what it was and what it truly meant. A single man so distort that his only way to cope is to create a mobile sculpture out of the death he created, just to be able to move on from the hell he existed in. (I would love to get a hold of that picture again that was in “Life” magazine from the forties.)

    This was the best way to deal with ones own self discuss over never being taught on how to deal with this part of life that we are shunned from. Not war, but being capable of being the destroyer.

    If I were you I would take it on as only a modern day Robin Hood would, not stealing to give to the poor but returning what does belong to the poor retched souls who lost their loved ones. There is no way to join the skulls to the rightful families, but at least they could be put to rest in THEIR home countries once and for all.
    I believe that was what your grandfather’s spiritual thoughts would had lead him to do if he had the strangth that you do have to do it. Come-on, he never spoke of it and you had the courage to go viral with it, asking for help.

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