On this day in 1972, Shōichi Yokoi – a Sergeant in the Imperial Japanese Army, or IJA – was found in a remote cave in the jungles Guam. Yokoi had served with the IJA’s 38th Infantry Regiment during WWII, and fought in several battles against the Allies’ Pacific forces. As the Americans landed on Guam in 1944, Yokoi and nine other IJA men hid themselves on the island. They knew that the battle was lost, but surrender did not appear to be an option. After decades in hiding, Yokoi was the only one left in the area; after his discovery by two local men in 1972, he was brought back to a much-changed Japan.
Shōichi Yokoi was one of several IJA men who remained behind on the old battlefields of their youth. Well into the 1970s, other Japanese soldiers were found on various Pacific islands, still very much at war in their own way. Although Yokoi had learned of Japan’s surrender in 1952, he had felt compelled to stay in hiding. When he was discovered in the jungle – clothed in plants and severely underweight – Yokoi tried to fight off his “arrestors” and escape, but was too weak to do so. Upon his return to Japan, Yokoi was asked why he had remained in his cave for 28 years. He replied simply:
“It is with much embarrassment that I return. We Japanese soldiers were told to prefer death … to the disgrace of getting captured alive“.