Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Shoichi Yokoi

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Though his story has been included in other lists, I wanted to include Yokoi’s tale of survival because I remember, as a teenager, reading about this Japanese soldier coming out of the jungle, still believing World War II was being fought. It was shocking at the time to believe anyone would continue to hide and continue to fight a war, for 28 years after the war had ended. But it was true.

During World War II, it was considered to be dishonorable for a Japanese soldier to surrender and be taken prisoner. So when the United States liberated the island of Guam, in 1944, ten Japanese soldiers refused to surrender and instead fled into the jungle to live and fight another day. They thought the news of the Japanese surrender was propaganda, and refused to believe it. The end of WWII came and went in 1945, and the ten remained in hiding. Eventually, seven of the ten went back to civilization, but three remained in the jungle and, eventually, two of them would die from starvation. In 1972, 28 years after he and his nine comrades went into hiding, the lone survivor emerged from the jungle. But it was not of his own free will. Two local fishermen surprised the last Japanese soldier on the island, captured him, and brought him out.
Shoichi Yokoi had finally stopped fighting for the Japanese Imperial Army. He had long ago been given up for dead, and his obituary listed him as killed in action. When he returned he was treated as a national hero in Japan. However, he felt he had not served the Emperor and army adequately, saying “It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive” – which instantly became a popular saying in Japan. Amazingly, Yokoi was the third from the last Japanese soldier to emerge from hiding. Two more soldiers, Hiroo Onoda and Teruo Nakamura, continued the fight and did not emerge until later.


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