On The Road to Khalkin Gol

- Part Two -
by Henry Sakaida (Continued)


Soviet infantrymen in a propaganda photo. The terrain was featureless and the small hills afforded very little protection from enemy fire.

I slowly reached for the rusted object. A vision of my ex-girlfriend Cynthia from my San Jose State days flashed before me. My hands froze. An ominous warning. I snapped a picture and decided to move on.

A recovery team from Japan with remains of war dead
A recovery team from Japan with remains of war dead

We found the Japanese recovery crew from yesterday huddled near a large pit. There was a guy handing out bones and a skull to his colleagues. They were very absorbed in their task and paid scant attention to us. An anthropologist and a member of the Mongolian Red Cross were with them.

None of the Japanese knew anything about the relics they were unearthing. Luckily, Justin was able to tell them because of his knowledge of Soviet and Japanese armaments. “That’s a drum magazine from a Soviet Degtyaryova light machinegun!” he called out. Soon, they were asking for his comments and opinions. They tossed out a Japanese helmet in good condition, and also a leather boot and canvas clothing. Having been buried since 1939, they were in amazing shape!

A Soviet metal cup recovered near the remains.
A Soviet metal cup recovered near
the remains
This Soviet armored car was hit by artillery and landed upside down.
This Soviet armored car was hit by artillery
and landed upside down.

 There were so many mangled and decomposing bodies after the battle, the Soviets simply tossed them into the nearest shell crater and covered them up. Anyone with a shovel could find human remains if they put any effort into it. The recovery team told us that the bones would be cremated and sent back to a shrine in Japan. Justin and I believe that the fallen soldiers should remain undisturbed with their comrades.

Japanese troops fought tenaciously to hold onto this plateau and were overwhelmed by Soviet/Mongolian forces.

By the time we left the Japanese team, they had unearthed five complete skulls and more bones. The anthropologist remarked that one of the skulls was Caucasoid (a Caucasian or Russian) while the remaining four appeared to be Mongoloid (Asian, presumably Japanese).

Our guide Chinzorig stumbled upon a complete leather horse harness, black and brittle from exposure. All around him were bones of a horse. Both sides used horses in the conflict.

The private told us about a wreck site which really enticed us. Back in 1996, the Mongolians made a business deal with the Chinese on scrap metal. The Chinese came over and took out all the tank, vehicle, and aircraft wrecks from the area. However, they left only one wreck which was located on the military reservation. It was the hulk of a Soviet armored car, which was apparently blown up and landed upside down in a shell crater. Metal scavengers over the years had stripped it almost clean.

We decided to call it a day and drove down to the Khalka River with plans to return the following morning. Not having taken a bath in a few days, Justin and I stripped and jumped in the Khalkin Gol. Chinzorig tried his hand at fishing downstream; he failed to catch anything. We apologized to our guide for leaving a dirty greasy sheen in the river. Our second driver started to prepare a barbeque. We had quite a feast when it got dark.

  The following day, rather than go back to the battlefield, we elected to take a tour of the war monuments along the west bank of the Khalka River. They were all weed-choked and in various states of neglect. None of the grave markers have any names on them which led me to believe that they are symbolic. The monuments were built in the 1970s when the Soviets were there and had money to build them.

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