WWII Japanese Stragglers Uncovered in Guam September 1964: Was it the Famous Corporal Shoichi Yokoi?

Shoichi Yokoi

Dateline: Wednesday, September 2, 1964

Guam, UPI: Two men believed to be World War II Japanese Army stragglers are living a game of hide and seek with authorities on this United States tropical island in the Western Pacific Ocean. Scattered reports circulated about two men seen wearing long beards and G-strings scrounging for food. The most recent report came from Jose G. George, an employee of the Hawaiian Rock Company on Guam.

About a month prior to the opening of the Tokyo Olympic Summer Games, and over 19 years since the end of the Pacific War on August 15, 1945, reports of seeing yet another set of Japanese military stragglers were made. The Japanese fought to protect a massive area from Indonesia to Manchuria after their comprehensive attacks and invasions that commenced with Pearl Harbor in December, 1941.

When the war ended, most Japanese were either imprisoned or repatriated to Japan. But in the years after the Pacific War, there have been some 80+ cases of Japanese turning themselves in, being uncovered and taken in or killed. Most of these cases were in the 1950s and 1970s. Very often, the Japanese were uncertain that the war had ended and wanted to make sure they avoided capture by the enemy.

Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi Displays Clothes to Guam Police
Shoichi Yokoi shows his clothes at a police station in Guam.

The two men in the UPI report were said to be “seen wearing long beards and G-strings scrounging for food”. The man who saw them, Jose George, was driving a truck when he saw the two unusually dressed and famished men. It was also reported that one of the stragglers had a gun, pointed it at George, but the gun failed to fire. The Marines searched but could not find the two reputed Japanese stragglers.

What’s interesting is that in January 1972, a Japanese man, Corporal Shoichi Yokoi, was captured on Guam. Was Yokoi one of the men who Jose George some 7-and-a-half years earlier?

After serving in Manchukuo, the Mariana Islands and finally Guam, he went into hiding with ten other soldiers after the American forces captured Guam. In 1972, Yokoi was alone when he was found out by two local fishermen and captured. When Yokoi returned to Japan, he was an overnight sensation.

“It is with much embarrassment, but I have returned,” said Yokoi on his arrival back in Japan. And even though he knew that the war had actually ended since 1952, he still was reluctant to come out of hiding. “We Japanese soldiers were told to prefer death to the disgrace of getting captured alive,” he said.

In an obituary about Yokoi in September 1997, the New York Times said that Yokoi’s return to Japan in 1972 “stirred widespread soul-searching within Japan about whether he represented the best impulses of the national spirit or the silliest.”

Yokoi apparently was still devoted to the Emperor of Japan, and at a visit to the Imperial Palace where the Emperor lives, he is reported to have said, “I deeply regret that I could not serve you well. The world has certainly changed, but my determination to serve you will never change.”

Here’s how the New York Times summed it up:

[Yokoi] was the epitome of prewar values of diligence, loyalty to the Emperor and ganbaru, a ubiquitous Japanese word that roughly means to slog on tenaciously through tough times. This persistence struck many elderly Japanese as inspiring and moving, while to younger people it seemed pointless and symbolic of an age that taught children to stick to what they were doing rather than to think about where they were going.

Here’s a fascinating look in a short documentary about how Yokoi lived.