Japanese WWII Soldier Who Hid for Decades Dies
Tuesday September 23, 1997 By Jon Herskovitz

TOKYO (Reuter) - A Japanese soldier who stayed in the jungles of Guam for 26 years after the end of World War II in adherence to the Imperial Army's code of never surrender has died of a heart attack, hospital officials said Tuesday.

Shoichi Yokoi, 82, became a national hero on his return to Japan in 1972 for his dramatic tale of survival.

His first words upon arriving in Tokyo -- "It is with much embarrassment that I return" -- were broadcast nationally and instantly became a popular saying.

He died Monday at a hospital in the central city of Nagoya, in his native Aichi prefecture.

Yokoi's exploits in the jungle fascinated the nation. The Japanese, in the throes of the post-war industrial boom, were intrigued by his bare diet of nuts, berries, frogs, snails and rats, and how he wove materials from tree bark.

His return triggered a search for other Japanese soldiers left from the war, and turned up another straggler in 1974, this time in the Philippines.

Unlike Yokoi, whose rifle had rusted and become useless, former Lt. Hiroo Onoda had kept a working firearm and killed several villagers before he was discovered in the Philippine jungle.

Yokoi, a former sergeant, was drafted into the army in 1941 and sent to northeastern China, and later to Guam. Japan occupied Guam during the war and most of its 22,000 troops were killed when U.S. troops recaptured the island in 1944.

Two local hunters discovered him in January 1972 in a remote Guam jungle wearing a pair of burlap pants and a shirt which he said he had made from the bark of a tree.

He was repatriated to Japan a month later where he started life over in a country and a world he hardly knew.

Japan had then become a nation without an army, just beginning to emerge as an industrialized power. Upon his return, Yokoi, who had been reported as killed in action, was dumbfounded by the changes that had occurred since he left on a military transport more than a quarter century ago.

At the first news conference since his homecoming, Yokoi, surrounded by reporters and photographers after nearly three decades in complete jungle isolation, appeared bewildered and was unable to answer questions posed to him.

He contracted an arranged marriage in November 1972, and traded his solitary cave in Guam for a home in Aichi Prefecture with his new wife Mihoko.

He became a regular commentator on television programs, where he discussed survival skills. He wrote a best-selling book on his experience in Guam and in 1974 ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Japan's upper house of parliament.

On Tuesday, friends and neighbors visited Yokoi's home in Nagoya to pay tribute to Japan's man who "never surrendered," Kyodo news agency reported.

Yokoi's wife Mihoko, 69, told reporters she felt she had lost "a treasure from my heart," Kyodo reported.

We have had 25 years of happy life, and I told my husband 'Thank you'," Kyodo quoted her as saying.

In 1991, Yokoi had an audience with Emperor Akihito during a reception at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Yokoi, who had said upon his return that he regretted having failed to serve the Imperial Japanese Army well, was overcome with emotion when he met the emperor, media reports said.