The Villain of Pearl Harbor Might've Lost a Gold Tooth

Dick Portillo thinks he's found it
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 20, 2016 8:39 AM CDT
The Villain of Pearl Harbor Might've Lost a Gold Tooth
The gold tooth.   (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune via AP)

An American history buff was leading an expedition through Papua New Guinea last year when one of his companions noticed something shiny sticking out of the mud at the site of a 1943 plane crash. It turned out to be a small gold tooth, but it wasn't the material that led Dick Portillo to pay landowners $14,000 to take it home to Illinois, reports the AP. Rather, it was Portillo's belief that the tooth might've belonged to Isoroku Yamamoto, the Japanese naval commander who orchestrated the attack on Pearl Harbor more than a year before his plane was shot down by US pilots. "If it comes to be true, it's peanuts compared to the value that I would look at," Portillo, 76—who sold his Portillo's hot dog chain for a reported $1 billion in 2014—tells the Chicago Tribune.

The former Marine is betting on more than gut instinct: Yamamoto was hit with a large-caliber round to the jaw, and dentists agree this tooth was forcefully removed. Yamamoto's body was also found in the front left area of the wreckage, near where the tooth was found. However, there were 10 other men on the plane, all of whom died, so the tooth could have belonged to any of them. Dental records for Yamamoto aren't known to exist, but Portillo plans to "do whatever it takes" to get to the bottom of the mystery, including examining the tooth for DNA. If it is linked to Yamamoto, Portillo says he'll give it to the Japanese government and perhaps make a documentary. "I don't want to make any money," he says. "The value to me is the fun, the experience." (A war hero's dog tag is finally back home.)

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