Tuesday, January 24, 2012


January 24, 1972

I was old enough to remember the day.  "They found a Japanese soldier in the jungle!"  we all told each other in the 4th grade at Saint Francis School, Yoña, even more excited that the straggler was found not far from us.

Not every Japanese soldier surrendered to the Americans when Guam was re-captured in 1944.  Some hid in the jungles even into the 1960s.  Some were eventually found; others died. 

One who managed to go undetected for almost 28 years was Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi.  It is a tribute to his survival skills; two of his companions, who lived on their own, died of apparent starvation. Yokoi was by trade a tailor, which came in handy as he fashioned clothing out of natural fibers he found in the jungle.  In the jungle of Talofofo, he survived on coconuts, papaya, breadfruit, rats, frogs, snails, shrimp and eel from the river.

Yokoi's Handmade Coat

On the evening of January 24, two Chamorro men, Jesus Dueñas and Manuel De Gracia, were in the jungles of Talofofo checking their shrimp traps by a river.  They stumbled upon a surprised Yokoi who tried to evade them, but they overpowered him and brought him out of the jungle.  He had been well-taught to despise surrender and to prefer death.

His attitude towards capture softened as he was treated with kindness.  He was checked by doctors, met the Governor and Japanese Consul and given all the necessities he had lacked for almost three decades.

Yokoi meets Governor Carlos Camacho
soon after his capture

Upon his arrival in Japan, he apologized to his Emperor and country for not returning to Japan as a victor.  "It is with much embarrassment," he said, "but I have returned," a phrase which became a popular saying in Japan at the time because of Yokoi's remark.

Later, I was told by Father Timothy Kavanagh, the Capuchin pastor of Talofofo at the time of Yokoi's discovery, that one of the first people contacted after the event was a Talofofo resident named Manuel Borja Kosaka.  Kosaka was half-Chamorro, half-Japanese and was perhaps the first person to speak to the captured Yokoi in his native language. 

A visitor at what is called Yokoi's Cave.
Tours are given there now.

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