LETTER: Japan’s final World War II holdouts

To the editor:

Fidelity, duty, love of country. Some of recorded history’s memorable examples of those values came to light — or rather, out of the jungles — between 1972 and 1974. They surely could not have been for the money. Robert Lee’s very informative March 10 examination of Germany’s devastation after its May 1945 surrender to allied forces falls nearly on the 44th anniversary of another World War II landmark, and invites a further look at some of that war’s consequences.

On March 9, 1974, Lt. Hiroo Onoda finally ended his active WWII service, turning himself in to authorities after holding out for 29 years in jungles of remote areas of the Philippines. Onoda and three comrades considered they were obeying 1945 orders to harass allied forces. Between 1949 and 1972, Onoda’s comrades had been killed or surrendered. All were suspicious of leaflets noting that the war was over.

In February 1974, a Japanese explorer found and befriended Lt. Onoda. A wartime commander of Onoda’s agreed to fly to the Philippines and issue updated orders convincing the holdout soldier to return. Helpfully, Emperor Hirohito was still on Japan’s throne. Hiroo Onoda would live nearly 40 more years, participate in writing his biography, raise cattle in Brazil, and oversee youth educational camps in Japan.

Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi eluded capture for 28 years on Guam until discovered by local fishermen on Jan. 24, 1972. He returned to Japan, eventually becoming a TV personality before his death in 1997.

The last known Japanese wartime soldier held out until late 1974. I was a little struck that WWII finally ended for Pvt. Teruo Nakamura on Dec. 18, 1974, the day I finished basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Nakamura was wrangled by Indonesian military authorities in a remote area on the island of Morotai.

Officially, their sacrifices hardly brought a financial bonanza to any of the three. Lt. Onoda turned down his back pay, and elected to donate the cash raised for him by an appreciative public. Accumulated pay for Pvt. Nakamura was calculated at the U.S. dollar equivalent of $227.59. That’s about 6 yen a day over 30 years (or 2 cents U.S.). Sgt. Yokoi was awarded barely more than Nakamura.

I suppose that’s part of what happens when you are on the losing side. But they may have earned some grudging admiration from old U.S. Marine adversaries who could only say, “Semper Fi.”

Douglas Smith