Friday, April 23, 2010

War holdouts

Those stories you've heard about soldiers hiding out in the jungle unaware for years that World War II had ended? True. This list of Japanese holdouts on Wikipedia names 2 who came out of hiding in the 1950s, 2 in the 1960s, and 4 in the 1970s - decades after the war ended! This registry lists even more. Two of the most well-known holdouts are pictured above and profiled below:

Hiroo Onoda
(b. 1922) was a Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer sent to the Philippines in 1944 (1st image). He and 3 fellow soldiers found a leaflet in October 1945 proclaiming that the war was over, but mistrusted it as Allied propaganda. A leaflet a year later from a general in the Japanese Army ordering them to surrender was dismissed as a hoax, as were subsequent communications. The men lived in makeshift shelters, subsisted on stolen cows, and skirmished with the native islanders, which resulted in killing 30 and wounding 100. One of the soldiers surrendered in 1950, another was shot and killed by a search party in 1954, and the 3rd was killed by local police in 1972. Onoda, now alone, was befriended by a Japanese college dropout who returned to their country with photographic evidence of the soldier's existence - although he had been declared dead in 1959. The Japanese government located Onoda's commanding officer - by then a bookseller - who flew to the Philippines, informed Onoda of the defeat of Japan in WWII, and ordered him to lay down his arms. After 29 years, these included a rifle still in working order, 500 rounds of ammunition, a sword, and several hand grenades. Onoda was popular following his return to Japan (2nd image), but unhappy at the attention and disillusioned by the decline of morals. He lived for years in Brazil before returning to Japan (3rd image) with his wife and establishing an educational camp for young people. He released an autobiography shortly after his surrender and in it discussed the death of the 2 men he'd fought alongside as guerrillas in the jungles of the Philippines. "Wouldn't it have been better if I had died with them?" he asked. Pardoned years later by President Ferdinand Marcos, he visited the Philippines in 1996 and made a $10,000 donation to the local school.

Shōichi Yokoi (1915-1997) was conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army in 1941 (4th image) and sent to Guam. He went into hiding with 10 other soldiers when the island was liberated by American forces in 1944. Seven of them eventually moved away and Yokoi found the other 3, after they had also parted, dead of apparent starvation. He lived for the next 8 years entirely on his own, sheltering in a cave, hunting at night, and making clothing from tree bark and burlap. In 1972, he was surprised and subdued by 2 American hunters. He was aware the war had ended, but he had adhered to the former Imperial Army's code of never surrender. "It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive," said Yokio upon his repatriation to a transformed Japan - a remark that would become a popular saying in Japanese. He embarked on a media tour (5th image) and became a popular television personality. In 1991, Yokio was granted an audience with Emperor Akahito, which he considered the greatest honor of his life. After he died at age 82 (6th image), he was buried beneath a gravestone originally commissioned by his mother in 1955 that recorded his assumed death in 1944. Yokoi's story was the subject of a 1977 documentary and has been retold in a 2009 biography. It was his discovery that prompted the search for Onoda in the Philippines.

This British soldier's story that he missed VE Day by 36 hours pales in comparison.

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