Incredible stories of WWII jungle hideouts
News reports have just reached my desk about the death two weeks ago of a Japanese army officer who refused to believe that World War II was over and hid out in a Philippine jungle for 29 years before being discovered, and I believe that they and the remarkable stories of two other holdouts during the war will be of interest to readers of this column, particularly those who have served in the U.S. armed forces.
On Jan. 16, former Imperial Japanese Army Second Lt. Hiroo Onoda, who eluded discovery from 1945 until 1974, died at the age of 91 in a Tokyo hospital following a heart attack.
Declared officially dead in 1959, Onoda, during his 29 years in hiding, survived on a diet of bananas and coconuts, killed an estimated 30 villagers he believed were his enemies and would turn him in, and kept his officer’s sword by his side until his discovery on Lubang Island, about 93 miles southwest of Manila.
Even after he was found by a young Japanese university graduate student who was on a mission to find him, Onoda refused to leave his jungle haven. But when his brother and former commanding officer were flown to the island from Japan to persuade him to return home, he relented, and still wearing his battered army uniform and holding his sword high, flew home where he was greeted by his parents, given a hero’s welcome and military pension, and rode in parades organized in his honor.
He signed a $160,000 contract for his memoir “No Surrender,” bought a luxury car with the proceeds, took dancing lessons, eventually moved to Brazil where he became a farmer and married a Brazilian woman, returned to Japan a few years later to set up a youth survivalist camp and was once again feted by Japanese conservatives and revisionists who declared that Japan had every right to attack Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Onoda’s incredible jungle survival reminds me of the other equally-fascinating World War II military holdouts I learned about when I was traveling in the Pacific several years ago.
While visiting the U.S. Territory of Guam for a week, I was told by my friend Dirk Ballendorf, a history professor at the University of Guam, about these two holdouts: Japanese Army Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi and U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer George Tweed.
Yokoi, who died in 1997 at the age of 82, had hidden in the Guam jungles for 27 years after the U.S. had retaken Guam from the Japanese, who had occupied the island from 1941 until 1944.
During those 27 years, Yokoi lived in a tunnel-like cave hidden away in a bamboo grove, surviving on a diet of bamboo leaves, coconuts, breadfruit, papayas, eels, snails, snakes and rats.
The cave is still preserved, and Professor Ballendorf, who, alas, died in his sleep 13 months ago at the age of 73, took me there where I was confronted with Japanese flags, a memorial plaque dedicated to Sgt. Yokoi and hordes of Japanese tourists paying homage to Yokoi. I wondered at the time, and I still wonder, if these Japanese visitors knew about the unfathonable atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers on captured U.S. military personnel, U.S. civilians and Guam natives during the war that included prolonged torture, rapes, beheadings, the severing of limbs, burials alive, mass executions and the forcible use of Guamanian women as prostitutes for Japanese troops.
Sgt. Yokoi, who had been a tailor’s apprentice before drafted into the Japanese Army, had sewn his clothing and bedding from the fibers of wild hibiscus plants during his holdout in the Guamanian jungle. On Jan. 24, 1972, he was discovered by local villagers, sent back to Japan, given a hero’s welcome like Lt. Onoda, eventually married, became a noted Japanese television personality and ran unsuccessfully for the Japanese parliament.
The plight of U.S. Navy man George Ray Tweed is equally intriguing.
A 16-year Navy veteran and the Navy radioman of Guam when it fell to the Japanese in early 1941, Tweed joined 10 other sailors in eluding the Japanese following the Japanese invasion of the island.
The men hid out in the homes and on the ranches of native Guamanians, who are called Chamorros, Dirk Ballendorf informed me. But word of the Americans’ escape soon reached the Japanese, and they combed the island for the men, torturing and executing many Guamanians whom they believed were aiding the escapees.
One-by-one, the Americans were captured, tortured and executed by the Japanese. But Tweed managed to escape the Japanese search parties, and became the group’s sole hold-out.
In July of 1944, when Tweed learned that U.S. Navy ships had arrived offshore and preparations were being made for U.S. troops to re-take the island, he ran to a hilltop, signaled the ships with a mirror, struggled down to the beach and was taken aboard a whaleboat from the destroyer USS McCall (DD-400).
Tweed survived the rest of World War II, was awarded the Legion of Merit, returned to the United States, left the Navy and raised funds for the purchase of a car that he had promised a Guamanian friend who had hidden him for several months from the Japanese.
Tweed, who had eluded the Japanese for two years and seven months, was killed in an automobile accident in Oregon on Jan. 16, 1989 at the age of 86, and was buried at the Eagle Point National Cemetery near Medford, Ore.
His story has been told in the official U.S. documentary film “The Battle of Guam,” in his memoir “Robinson Crusoe, USN” and in the 1962 motion picture “No Man Is An Island” that starred Jeffrey Hunter as Tweed.
David C. Henley is Publisher Emeritus of the LVN.