Despite official prohibition by the U.S. military, some American servicemen mutilated the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers throughout the Pacific campaign. Body parts (mostly skulls and teeth) were often kept as “souvenirs.”
Early on, this grisly practice was openly reported in U.S. magazines and newspapers with apparently little public condemnation. Even FDR was said to have accepted a letter opener made from a human arm bone, although he subsequently ordered its proper burial.
Throughout most of the Pacific War, U.S. Military attempts to enforce a ban on the practice were spotty at best. Finally, with the publication of this photograph by Life Magazine on May 22, 1944, the level of public condemnation precipitated more stringent action.
A young woman pens a thank you note as she gazes at a Japanese skull sent to her from her boyfriend serving in New Guinea. (May 22, 1944, issue of LIFE, p. 35.)
In June 1944 the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General issued a memorandum stating “such atrocious and brutal policies,” in addition to being repugnant, were also violations of the laws of war, and the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Sick and Wounded.