NEWS BRIEF More than 70 years after a revered Japanese commander was killed by U.S. forces in the South Pacific, his gold tooth may be in the possession of a Chicago hot dog magnate.
Dick Portillo, who sold his successful chain of diners for a reported $1 billion two years ago, says the tooth he recovered on an island in Papua New Guinea last year may have belonged to Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander who led the Japanese navy beginning in 1939. If the tooth is confirmed to be Yamamato’s, Portillo wants to give it to the Japanese government, according to a Chicago Tribune story Monday about the find.
“I don’t want to make any money,” Portillo told the Tribune. “I don’t care if I keep the tooth, you know what I mean? The value to me is the fun, the experience of doing that, the fact that I had a lot to do with it, and history.”
About that history. In 1941, Yamamoto orchestrated the attack on Pearl Harbor, even though he opposed war with the United States. Two years later, in April 1943, the commander embarked on a tour of military units in the South Pacific to boost morale after Japan failed to retake the island of Guadalcanal from Allied forces. Japanese forces sent coded messages to those units about Yamamoto’s visit. The U.S. navy intercepted and decrypted these messages, and warplanes were dispatched. On April 18, 1943, U.S. aircraft shot down the plane carrying Yamamoto, killing everyone on board. The plane crashed in thick jungle of the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville, and tourists can visit and see the wreckage today.