Let me give you a starting place: imagine a sword so unimaginably balanced and so masterfully constructed that it is considered by experts and collectors to be the finest sword ever made. Well, that sword existed, and it had a name – the Honjo Masamune. I’ve been fascinated with weapons for my entire life, and chiefly among them, swords. After I was given access to the internet, in my teens, I discovered the stories of the Honjo Masamune, which lay dorment in my brain until only recently. Last summer, as I was hacking brush in the backyard with a rusty Honduran machete, I was recounting the story to my then-girlfriend, Denali. She asked, “Did they ever find it?” I admitted that I had no idea, that I hadn’t followed up since my teens, and I proceeded to dive back into the bowels of the internet with a renewed vigor.
Now for the abbreviated history lesson (if you’d like the slightly longer version, just search “Honjo Masamune” on Wikipedia): Goro Nyudo Masamune (1264-1343 AD) is generally considered Japan’s greatest swordsmith, and his magnum opus was the Honjo Masamune, named for its creator and its most famous owner, General Honjo Shigenaga, who won the sword in a duel after its previous owner used it to split General Shigenaga’s helmet. Shigenaga survived, won the duel, and took possession of the sword. Later, when Shigenaga ran into financial trouble, he sold the sword for 13 gold coins to Toyotomi Hidetsugu, the nephew of respected general and politician, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. From there, the sword passed among the hands of the elite, until finally coming to rest with Prince Tokugawa Iemasa, a Japanese political figure, at the end of World War 2. This is where the story gets interesting.
In compliance with the disarmament of Japan ordered by General Douglas MacArthur, Tokugawa surrendered 14 swords to a police station at Mejiro, an upscale residential district in Toshima, Tokyo in December of 1945. Among these 14 swords was the Honjo Masamune. A month later, in January of 1946, the swords were surrendered to an American representative of the Foreign Liquidations Commission of AFWESPAC (Army Forces, Western Pacific). The representative’s name, as recorded by the police station, was “Sgt. Coldy Bimore.”
Who the hell is Coldy Bimore!?
For many years, this is where the trail went cold. There was no record, whatsoever, of a Sgt. Coldy Bimore. Eventually, some savvy sleuth discovered record of a Cole D.B. Moore attached to the Foreign Liquidations Commission in Japan during WW2. Cole D.B. Moore = “Coldy Bimore.” Say it aloud, you’ll get it.
As per Wikipedia:
“D. B. Moore (nickname ‘Cole’) achieved the rank of US Army Technician 4th Grade (T/4). Soldiers with the rank of T/4 were often addressed as ‘Sargent’ due to the insignia with three chevrons; thus “T/4 ‘Cole’ D. B. Moore” possibly became “Sgt. Coldy Bimore”.
Moore was attached to the Foreign Liquidations Commission of AFWESPAC (Army Forces, Western Pacific) and was stationed in Japan after the second world war. ‘Cole’ D. B. Moore was discharged on April 22, 1946. Detailed military records for Moore were lost in the National Personnel Records Center fire (1973) which destroyed 16 – 18 million Official Military Personnel Files including 80% of records for servicemen and women serving between 1912 and 1960.”
This is where the trail officially goes cold. Wikipedia listed (at that time) no other information for D.B. Moore, and a few hours spent searching and questioning sword and samurai forums left me with no other leads. That’s when I decided to follow the link from the Coldy Bimore Wikipedia entry to the only remaining information on D.B. Moore – his entry in The National Archives (aad.archives.gov). A search for D.B. Moore (Army serial number 34681402) lists no useful information, aside from his race (white), original residence (Wilcox County, Georgia), and his original occupation (farmer).
Both of my grandfathers were in the service, and both returned to their home towns. My mother’s father was also a farmer, and wished to be buried near it, in the family cemetery. I would assume that a young farmer from Wilcox County Georgia might feel the same way. Enter Findagrave.com. “Find a Grave” is a website that catalogues graves and headstones and links related obit information – in this case, it broke the cold case back open. A search for D.B. Moore led me to a grave for D.B. Moore in the Christian Home Cemetery in Pitts, Wilcox County, Georgia. All the info, from the place and date of birth to the WW2 veteran status, matches exactly. This might be, quite possibly, the grave of the famous Coldy Bimore.
Moore’s information is limited, but scrolling to the very bottom of the page lists a spouse: Ruby Morris Moore (1932-2012). Following the link to Ruby Moore’s entry on the website reveals much more information. D.B. and Ruby had five children. For the purposes of this article, and out of respect for their privacy, I will not list their names.
I found the oldest son on facebook, of all places, but numerous attempts to contact him were met with no response. I was open with him, in my initial message, about why I was contacting him – I told the truth – that I was researching his late father in conjunction with a missing sword. He was “seeing” my messages, but choosing not to respond. Before attempting to call him, send him a letter, or visit him (which I frankly couldn’t afford to do anyway), I figured I’d call in the big dogs – the Japanese Embassy in Washington DC.
In order to be thorough, I drafted a letter containing the exact information as this article, only more respectfully and formally written, and made three copies. I sent a copy to the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C., a copy to the Japanese consulate in Oklahoma, and a copy to the Japanese consulate in Georgia. I also emailed a copy of the letter to all three places, each copied on the same email, so they would know I was contacting them all. About a week later, I received a very formal “Thank You” email from the Japanese consulate, but without any mention of future follow-up. I was satisfied. If the issue is anyone’s business, it’s their business, and I’ve done my part to give them all the information I have. Done.
Or so I thought.
Last fall, I got a call from a producer at the Travel channel (all Travel Channel employees shall also remain nameless, because who cares) who said she’d heard from someone in one of the samurai forums that I was digging up new information on the story. She said they were planning to do a documentary about the lost sword, and that any info I had would be appreciated. I sent her an exact copy of the letter that I’d sent to the Japanese embassy, and told her that they were welcome to pursue the same leads. She asked if I’d be willing to appear on the documentary as an “expert”, and I said no. I told her that I wasn’t an expert – I was just some guy who knew how to use the internet… “However,” I added, “if you’re planning to actually go to Georgia and try to speak to his family, let me come with you. Hell, let me DO it.” She thought about, and replied, “Send me a headshot. I’ll talk to my boss.”
Weeks passed, and I figured I’d heard the last of it (again) until I got another call from another Travel Channel producer – this one was, indeed, the last one’s boss. This producer verified my info and told me that, yes, they were putting together the funding to fly me and the camera crew out to Georgia to personally find and ask the family about the sword their father allegedly may have stolen. I was, to say the least, stoked. She told me that they would contact me later with additional information.
I got a final phone call about a week later. The second producer stated, simply, that they would no longer be requiring my assistance with the documentary. A bit annoyed, I asked why they’d decided to exclude me from the project when it was my leads that gave them their ending. She paused, and when she spoke, she seemed… troubled. She told me that they weren’t including the Moore family in the documentary at all. In fact, they weren’t including the United States in the story whatsoever. The documentary would be a historical piece that ended with the theft of the sword, and would take place wholly in Japan. They would not try to relocate the sword.
With that, she said goodbye, and I never spoke to anyone at the Travel Channel again. I don’t know why they abandoned the lead. Perhaps the family threatened legal action. Perhaps the Japanese embassy told them not to interfere with an official investigation. Perhaps my hunch was way off. *shrug* I have no idea. That’s where my involvement in the search for the Honjo Masamune ends.
So far, anyway.
To be safe, I sent this story, and all of my gathered information, to VICE. If any group of people on the planet are good enough, and crazy enough, to find a missing legendary sword, it’s definitely the beautiful bastard cowboy adventurers at VICE. In my opinion, there is no greater modern-day journalistic force on Earth.
[UPDATE – 7/30/15] This post is getting far more attention than anything on the site, and I’m getting quite a few emails asking if I’ve made any progress. To be clear, I’ve pursued this as far as I am legally and financially able. I welcome others to pick up where I left off. If you’d really like to see a resolution to this, my best advice would be to contact VICE @ firstname.lastname@example.org, link them back to this page, and ask them to pick up the story. I think it’s the best bet, considering the apparent lack of interest with other organizations. If they get enough emails, and see that there’s really a demand, I could see them potentially following this through to a more satisfying conclusion. – eric