On December 7, 1941, Imperial Japanese air forces attacked the US Pacific Naval anchorage at Pearl Harbor.
The attack killed 2,335 and wounded another 1,178. Four battleships and two other vessels were sunk to the bottom. Thirteen other ships were damaged or destroyed.
188 aircraft were destroyed and another 159 damaged, most while still on the ground. All eight battleships then in harbor, were damaged.
The following day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress, asking for a declaration of war. Little did anyone know. The war with Imperial Japan would rage for 33 years.
Alright, not really. Representatives of the Empire of Japan signed the instruments of surrender aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, formally ending the war in the Pacific.
Except, some were so isolated from the chain of command, they never got the message. Others believed it to be a ruse. So steeped were these guys in the warrior code of bushido, it was impossible to believe their leaders had accepted dishonorable surrender. Still others were true believers, fanatically dedicated to the mythical “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”. Never mind those mass graves, over there.
Whatever it was, WW2 came and then left without them. For thousands, the war went on.
On June 7, 1944, the largest gyokusai (honorable suicide) of World War 2 exploded from three sides against United States Army and Marine Corps troops, on Saipan. Some five thousand Japanese emerged shrieking from caves and hiding places, in the largest Banzai Charge of WW2. Savage fighting was hand to hand, the tide of humanity overrunning American forward positions and penetrating miles, into the rear. One rear-echelon regimental headquarters was overwhelmed.
The struggle raged for fifteen hours. In terms of American casualties, the Battle for Saipan was the third costliest battle of the Pacific war, after Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Some 4,300 Japanese troops were killed in the Bonsai charge of June 7. William O’Brien of Troy, New York, Benjamin Lewis Salomon of Milwaukee Wisconsin and Thomas Alexander Baker of Troy New York all earned the Medal of Honor. Posthumously.
Following the Battle of Saipan, Captain Sakae Ōba led a small band of survivors in guerrilla actions against American troops. The small group couldn’t know, the fleet of Japanese ships expected to bring relief from the Philippines was destroyed in the largest naval action of the war, in Leyte Gulf. And so they fought on, 47 men raiding by night, and taking pot shots, from a distance. When medical supplies ran out, Ōba cannily inserted the weak and infirm into American POW stockades, taking with him a like number among the strongest. He was “the fox”: so clever was this guy at evading capture.
Photographs were dropped after the war, depicting the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, pictures Ōba deemed to be fakes. When Americans set up outdoor movie theaters in the fields of Saipan, none could know. Captain Sakae Ōba sat in the (way) back seat.
Captain Ōba’s band held out, for 512 days.
20 Imperial Japanese Army personnel emerged from a tunnel on Corregidor, surrendering to an American serviceman. Navy Lieutenant Hideo Horiuchi was arrested by on August 13, 1946, while recovering from wounds received in a battle with Dutch troops.
Lieutenant Ei Yamaguchi led 33 soldiers in an attack on an American Marine Corps detachment on Peleliu in March, 1947. Reinforcements were sent in, including a Japanese admiral who finally convinced these guys the war was over. The group surrendered in April, 1947.
• On May 12, 1948, two Japanese soldiers surrendered to civilian policemen in Guam.
• Two machine gunners from the Imperial Japanese Navy surrendered on Iwo Jima on January 6, 1949.
• Several went on to fight for the Viet Minh against French Imperial troops, in Indochina.
• Seaman Noburo Kinoshita hanged himself in the Luzon jungle in 1955, rather than “return to Japan in defeat.”
Private Bunzō Minagawa and Sergeant Masashi Itō held out for sixteen years on the American territory of Guam. Minagawa described the experience:
“We ate roots, worms, grass, and grasshoppers. It’s no use telling you because you wouldn’t believe it. You can’t imagine such a life. We were sleeping every night in the rain on the ground“.
The pair surrendered in May 1960, rotted uniforms hanging in tatters from from their bodies. Shoichi Yokoi also served under Itō. Corporal Yokoi evaded capture, for another twelve years.
In June 1941, 36 soldiers and sailors survived the sinking of 3 Japanese supply ships off Anatahan, swimming ashore on the tiny speck of an island in the Marianas chain.
Anatahan island had two occupants at the time, the Japanese head of a coconut plantation, and his wife. Kikuichiro Higa “disappeared” under mysterious circumstances while his wife Kazuko, became the object of affection for thirty-six starving castaways.
Kazuko, a “lantern jawed” woman the Japan Times “charitably described” as “handsome’, “married” Kikuichiro Higa as protection, from the rest. Higa was soon shot and Kazuko’s third “husband”, had his throat slit. For six years, a dwindling number of starving waifs vied for the affections of the island’s only female.
Over the years, one erstwhile beau was stabbed, thirteen times.
After twelve murders and countless assaults and fist fights, “The Queen Bee of Anahatan Island” returned to Japan in 1951. Press adulation was short lived. Kazuku Higa fell into a life of prostitution and died in abject poverty at age 51, while working as garbage collector.
After the war, 2nd Lieutenant Hirō Onoda took to the mountains of Lubang Island along with Private Yūichi Akatsu, Corporal Shōichi Shimada and Private First Class Kinshichi Kozuka, carrying out guerrilla raids and engaging in shootouts with local police. Akatsu left the other three in 1949, and surrendered six months later. Shimada was killed by a search party in 1954. Kozuka was shot and killed by local police in 1972, while burning rice collected by farmers.
Two years later, Japanese explorer and adventurer Norio Suzuki set out, looking for “Lieutenant Onoda, a wild panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order“. On February 20, 1974, the pair met. Suzuki nearly got himself shot for his troubles, but he was quick. “Onoda-san”, he said, “the emperor and the people of Japan are worried about you.” Years later, Onada himself described the encounter: “This hippie boy Suzuki came to the island to listen to the feelings of a Japanese soldier. Suzuki asked me why I would not come out…”
“I am a soldier and remain true to my duties.” Onada would surrender when ordered to do so by a superior officer. Not before. Suzuki returned to Japan and located Onoda’s commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who was now working in a book store. The pair flew to Lubang, where Taniguchi issued the following orders:
“In accordance with the Imperial command, the Fourteenth Area Army has ceased all combat activity.
In accordance with military Headquarters Command No. A-2003, the Special Squadron of Staff’s Headquarters is relieved of all military duties.
Units and individuals under the command of Special Squadron are to cease military activities and operations immediately and place themselves under the command of the nearest superior officer. When no officer can be found, they are to communicate with the American or Philippine forces and follow their directives”.
Thus properly relieved of duty, Onada surrendered, turning over his sword, his rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition and a number of hand grenades along with the dagger his mother had given him. To kill himself, should he ever be captured. It was March 9, 1974.
Private Teruo Nakamura, born Attun Palalin to the aboriginal Amis people native to the island nation of Taiwan, was the last confirmed holdout of WW2. Nakamura, who spoke neither Japanese nor Mandarin, was discovered by the Indonesian Air Force on Morotai. He surrendered to a search patrol on December 18, 1974.
Twenty-nine years, three months, and sixteen days after the Japanese instrument of surrender, World War Two was finally over.
As a member of the Japanese Army, Hirō Onada received back pay and a pension equal to $160,000(US), equivalent to $850,000, today. Not so, Teuro Nakamura. As a member of a colonial army, Nakamura’s thirty-years service to the former Japanese Empire got him $1,186(US) and a trip back to Taiwan where he died of lung cancer, in 1979.
Private 1st Class James Donald “Don” Jones of Eastland County, Texas was a veteran of Tulagi, Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Tinian and helped defeat the great bonsai charge of Saipan, in 1944. Curious about his own history, Don Jones met with Captain Ōba in 1980, and returned the former geography teacher, his sword. You can read Private Jones’ story in his own words, if you like. It’s available from $16.93, in hard cover.
A Trivial Matter