I. True Stories of Two Japanese Soldiers Forgotten on Jungle Islands after WWII




What was it like for Japanese soldiers forgotten and abandoned on jungle islands after World War II? Here are the true stories of two soldiers and how they survived:


On January 24, 1972, two residents of the village of Talofofo in the southern part of Guam were out hunting along the Talofofo River when they heard a sound in the tall reeds. They thought it was an animal or maybe a child in the bushes, but out came a very old and wild appearing Japanese man carrying a shrimp trap. The hunters were startled at first, and after a few confused words they subdued 56-year-old Shoichi Yokoi and took him back to their corrugated metal home in the jungle, about an hour’s walk away. Eventually the police were summoned, and the story of Shoichi Yokoi’s saga became known. During WWII, Yokoi had been transferred from Manchuria to Guam, where he served as a sergeant in the supply corps. When the Americans came, he and nine other men hid in the jungle. Their numbers gradually dwindled to three, and they shared a cave for a while. He knew from a leaflet he found in 1952 that the war was over but never gave himself up because “we Japanese soldiers were told to prefer death to the disgrace of getting captured alive.” Eight years before he was found, the other two men died, leaving him alone. How did Yokoi handle the basics necessities of life? Food? Water? Clothing? Shelter? Tools? Let’s explore, one by one, how he managed to provide these necessities in a situation where he had no hope (or desire) of returning to “civilization.”

According to Yokoi, obtaining necessary food was “a continuous hardship.” He described it as his single hardest on-going task, despite the fact that food in the jungle is said to be plentiful. His diet included mangoes, various nuts, crabs, prawns, snails, rats, eels, pigeons, and wild hog. Though he had no salt for flavoring or as a preservative, he boiled coconuts in coconut milk. He built little traps and caught shrimp and eel from the river. He put grated coconut into the traps to serve as bait. He would then skewer the eel and shrimp and grill them over his fire. Yokoi had fashioned a rat trap from wire, based on a design that was formerly very common in Japan. Yokoi’s trap measured about 10 by 6 by 4 inches, and just the slightest touch of the bait causes the lid to shut. He said he liked rat meat, especially the liver. However, he added that he could not afford to be concerned with whether or not he “liked” any of the food he obtained. He ate it all. On one occasion, he caught a wild pig and became ill. Apparently, he hadn’t cooked it well enough and he experienced severe stomach pains for a month.

Though water was abundant, and clear, Yokoi said that he always boiled the water before drinking it as a precaution.

Reporters who saw Yokoi’s clothing were amazed. They were unable to determine from what sort of materials they had been made. He even had home-made buttons! His clothes were made by beating the bark of the pago tree into flat pieces of fabric. The pago tree is very common in the mountains of Guam. He then beat pieces of brass in order to create a needle shape, and gradually drilled holes in his sewing needle using an awl. His thread also came from the beaten bark of the island’s pago trees. He wove cloth from the beaten fibre, and sewed the pieces together to make a total of three “suits” during his 28 years on the island. By the way, Yokoi had been a tailor before the war, a craft that served him well. His 3 sets of pants and shirts were hand-made and then he would constantly repair them to keep them serviceable. On each of his shirts, he made outside pockets for carrying things. His pants even had belt loops! And he took plastic from a flashlight and fashioned buttons, button-holes and all. He manufactured one belt by weaving the pago fibres, and onto the belt he had a hand-made buckle that he’d fashioned from wire. It turned out that in the past, the people of Guam used to manufacture a rough cloth from the pago fibre, and they turned these into something like burlap bags. It is said that this is no longer done today, so Yokoi–out of necessity–rediscovered one of nature’s secrets.

In the beginning, Yokoi used a lens for fire-starting. It was a flashlight lens manufactured by the Japan Optics Company. At some point he lost this lens and he is said to have made his fire by “rubbing two sticks together.” This was apparently a description of a hand drill, or some variation. In order to keep a coal, he wove a rope from coconut fibre and used this as a punk.

Yokoi lived in different shelters during his 28 years. One of his shelters was a small house made from rushes he collected. He also lived in a hole that he dug under a bamboo grove. Yokoi said that he chose that particular site because it was well hidden and because the ground is more solid under a grove of bamboos. Officials had reported that it was nearly impossible to see the opening to his cave even when you were right next to it. The entire cave was dug with a trowel that Yokoi fashioned from an old cannon shell. He carried the excavated soil, handful by handful, to a nearby grassy area and scattered it so that no one would notice. After one month of digging, he was able to move in, even though he continually expanded the interior space. The opening to his cave was about two foot square, which he kept well-camouflaged. A bamboo ladder led eight or nine feet into the inside. The inside of this cave, even at its highest point, was still just slightly more than three feet tall, which meant that Yokoi always had to squat. Inside, he had a toilet hole so well designed that it would flow off naturally to the river below. On another end of the cave–the “kitchen”–Yokoi had some shelves, and a hearth with a cooking pot. Keep in mind that the interior of this cave was pitch-black, so Yokoi had devised a coconut shell lantern which burned oils. He had fitted the cave with a ventilation hole, and kept bamboo leaves on the floor.

Yokoi described the acquiring of food as his single greatest hardship; the second greatest hardship was the production of tools and other articles of daily use. Remember, no hardware store, no supermarket, no K-mart. All he had to work with was raw nature, and whatever metal and other objects he could scavenge from the island. Yokoi collected whatever he found, such as discarded cans. He carefully cut a Japanese canteen in two, and made a frying pan from one half and a plate from the other half. He found a water kettle and repaired the leaks so he could use it. He took cylinders of bamboo and used them to collect rainwater and as dippers to collect water from the river.

Doctors who examined Yokoi after he was found said that he was fine both physically and mentally. Though the two hunters who initially discovered Yokoi thought he was much older than 56, they did report that he seemed quite strong for his size. Apparently he remained healthier in the jungle than most folks do in front of their televisions and behind the wheel of their smog-belchers.


Hiroo Onoda was sent to the jungle of Lubang Island of the Phillippines in December of 1944. His intelligence duties consisted of gathering information about the enemy movements and sabotaging the enemy rear. Within eight months the war was over, but Onoda refused to surrender until he had a direct order from his old commander. So Onoda and three enlisted men hid out on the island; one of the three others surrendered in 1950, and the two others died in a shootout with Philippine police in 1954 and 1972. But it would be 30 years before Onoda would be found and convinced to surrender when they brought in his old commander. Onoda survived by setting up a series of hideouts on the 74 square mile island, and by stealing food (the island was occupied) and making sure his caches of live ammo were kept intact. After returning home to Japan, Onoda said that the toughest part of the experience was losing his comrades. He added that there was nothing at all pleasant that happened to him during the entire 30 years. But, he added “My country today is rich and great. When my purpose in the war has been attained, in the fact that Japan today is rich and great, to have won or lost the war is entirely beside the point.”

Onoda survived on boiled bananas, and coconuts. He would occasionally pilfer rice and salt from the nearby village. But the main staple was boiled bananas. He would pick the bananas as needed, cut them all up, skin and all, and boil them. The green bananas lost their bitterness this way, and they were often cooked in coconut milk or dried meats. “The result tasted like overcooked sweet potatoes. It was not good. But we ate this most of the time.” Next to bananas, cows on the island provided meat for Onoda and his comrades. They killed about three a year. They would shoot cows that wandered away from the village, shooting it in the evening or in rain so the noise would be muffled. It took them about an hour to dismember a cow; then they discarded what was left in a place that wouldn’t reveal their whereabouts. They ate fresh meat for about three days, and then dried the rest on drying racks they built. One cow provided about 250 pieces of dried beef, and generally they each ate only one piece a day. Though they had some rice, they did not each much because it was difficult to hull. The rice was typically stolen from the villagers. Other food supplies included occasional coffee and canned goods stolen from the homes of the villagers. When Onoda and his comrades went to steal these things, they said they were “stepping out for the evening.”

There was always plenty of water on Lubang, and the water was so clear you could see the bottom of the streams. However, Onoda always boiled the water since he believed it may have been contaminated by cattle.

Onoda noted that his clothes were always rotting. He made a needle from some wire netting he found, which he straightened and managed to put an eye in. He made thread from the fibres of a hemp-like plant that grew wild in the forest. Fishing line was also used for thread. He would patch and patch, and then even take pieces of canvas from the edges of his tents. After his clothes could no longer be patched, he would steal fabric or clothing from the village whenever he could. Much of the fabric that he would steal he’d use to add linings to his existing clothes, or to double the knees or seats, any places where there were weaknesses. He took old shoes and make sandals. He had a jacket which he could turn inside-out and attach branches to little loops he’d sewn. This made the jacket into a camouflage coat. He also wove straw sandals.

Onoda did have ammunition which was used to make fire. He would remove the powder from ammo that was rusty and ignite it with a lens. He also would make fire using two dried pieces of split bamboo. One piece was hammered into the ground, and the other piece, held horizontally, would be stroked up and down to produce the coal. (He had plenty of time to practice!)

Onoda and the others would build a shelter during the wet season, and then just sleep in the open during the rest of the year. Site selection of the shelter was important. It had to be near food, but not too far from where the cows grazed. It had to be on the opposite side of the hill from the village so their fire or smoke would not be seen. They also built it on sloping ground. They would find one secure tree, and then build a pole structure that was secured to at least this one tree. Rafters were placed slantwise on the ridgepole and covered with coconut leaves. Everything was tied together with vines. The upper part of the shelter was the “bedroom” and the lower part was the “kitchen.” The stove consisted of two piles of flat rocks stacked close so that a fire could be built between them and a pole secured above to hang a pot. Onoda and a partner could build such a hut in seven or eight hours. They said these huts, called a “bahai,” was more comfortable than the tents they had, but the roof began to leak in the bahai by the end of each season. Onoda said that “during my entire 30 years on Lubang, I never once slept soundly through the night.”

Using wire, cans, and other materials, he constructed rat traps, snares, and traps for other small game.

Onoda noted that if he ate much meat after they’d killed a cow, his temperature would soar. He found that if he drank the milk of green coconuts, his temperature would return to normal. Onoda constantly monitored his physical well-being, and would adjust his diet or activities if he did not feel well. He was sick “in bed” with a fever only once. Much time was spent digging and covering latrines; they used palm leaves for toilet paper. Though he had no soap, he often washed his clothes just in plain water and sometimes with kelp or lye from wood ashes. He washed his face daily, and brushed his teeth with the fibre from the palm trees. A doctor who examined Onoda after he came out of the jungle noted that he had no cavities.

II. Link to WWII Japanese Soldiers’ Bodies Found Buried in Caves
April 2, 2015

The island nation of Palau is preparing for a visit from Japan’s Emperor Akihito next week with an unusual and grim task: It’s investigating long-sealed caves on the island of Peleliu to look for the remains of Japanese soldiers from World War II. The remains of six soldiers have been discovered so far, but that’s just the start. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports they were found in one of about 200 sealed caves on Peleliu. An estimated 10,000 Japanese men were killed in a weeks-long battle with US troops during the war, and the bodies of 2,600 of them were never found. The Japanese used a network of caves and tunnels during the 1944 fighting, recounts the Telegraph, and largely “staged their defense” from within the caves.

About 1,600 American troops were killed, but the US military blew up many of the caves (essentially sealing the Japanese within) and eventually gained control. The six newly found bodies were found in the vicinity of an anti-tank gun, and “it’s my understanding that those [bodies] were the crew, perhaps the officer and his men that were manning that gun,” says one of the search officials. “A number of US soldiers died in that vicinity as well.” The task is painstaking because searchers need to guard against booby traps or the detonation of old munitions. An interesting side note from the Telegraph: Some 35 Japanese soldiers who had been hiding in the caves surrendered in April 1947—more than a year after the war’s end.

Inmates Hated My Prison Design (by Don)

In our second novel, FORGOTTEN, Jake spends time in a prison where inmate intimidation rules the day. I learned about the reality of this dominance problem when I was a practicing architect and the State of Indiana said to me, “We want you to give us a design that will enable us to regain control of inmates.”

What was the problem the prison authorities needed to gain control of? 

Bullies. Here’s how Indiana’s Department of Corrections described it: “There is a pecking order within the prison population. At the top are prisoners who are so dominant toward the other inmates that they make them their personal slaves. We need a design that will enable us to separate these predators from the rest of the population.” They went on to explain that these bullies were hard to handle. It took two to three staff to move them where they didn’t want to go. Often, when the guards walked by these bullies’ cells, urine and feces were thrown on them. In addition to everything else, these tough guys were an ongoing threat to prison breaks.

So, the state wanted me (my team) to design Indiana’s first “segregation unit,” also known as a “Super Max,” a super-maximum-security prison to be located in Westville, Indiana. The facility was to house the state’s 100 most dangerous felons. I developed the concept and was told, “We like this so much we want you to expand the facility design to hold a total of 200 offenders.”

Your jaw will drop at what I gave them. The Super Max was designed so that no individual inmate was ever disturbed. Each could spend as much time reading or watching his own television programs as he desired. Three nutritious meals were delivered hot and on time every day. The space was clean, air-conditioned, always kept at a pleasant 72 degrees. Each inmate had his own window with a view to the exterior. He was permitted to sleep as much as he wanted. An hour was allowed every day for exercise.

Tough life, huh? 

Yet the inmates hated it.

So much so that they got the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to sue the State of Indiana because of “inhuman conditions.” The ACLU lost its lawsuit against the state, and the facility continues to house the state’s 200 most dangerous felons.

More than anything else during this experience, I picked up on an important psychology of prison life. In investigating examples of dealing with inmate intimidation, I visited a prison that had an interesting way of working with the problem. An offender who constantly fought with other prisoners was put in solitary confinement for a time. When the offender came out of solitary, he was allowed to be in the presence of one other person. If he successfully handled that situation, he progressed to being in the presence of more and more people. If he got into a fight, he was sent back to solitary to begin the process once more.

This psychology was important background for making Jake’s experience realistic in FORGOTTEN. It will also come into play in a future novel yet to be published. Read FORGOTTEN and discover why these Indiana maximum security prisoners would prefer the horror of Jake’s prison to the luxury of mine.

Guilty or Not? (by Don)

In our third novel, TARGETED, Jake and Eve are witnesses in a criminal trial. Five years before I wrote the novel, I served on a jury in a criminal trial and thus felt a degree of comfort in writing about Jake and Eve’s experience. In my case, I found the event filled from beginning to end with surprises. 

My first surprise was that I was even selected to sit on the jury. The trial concerned a black man accused of raping a white woman. The defense attorney did his best to get a majority of the jurors to be black. In addition, there was an attempt to peremptorily challenge anyone with a college degree. Yep, two strikes against me right there. I expected to be dismissed. However, when I came up for consideration, the defense attorney had used up all his peremptory challenges, and after a few questions I was seated. 

This was my first—and, as it turned out, my only—time to serve on a jury, so I was eager to see what it was like. Salting this was an interesting principle I had learned about judging someone guilty or not guilty. Years earlier, I had sat in on a USMCR class on the topic of “Opening Statements.” The class discussed their importance, stressing that research had shown an astounding fact. In a typical trial, the jury members make their decision about the guilt or innocence of the accused during the first five minutes of opening statements, and ninety percent of the time the jurors never change their minds throughout the trial.

Now that I was selected for jury duty, I wanted to see how this played out. As the trial proceeded, the evidence quickly became immensely complicated and technical. We were barraged with the testimonies of a battery of expert witnesses. When they were finally done at 6:30 p.m., I expected to be sent home and return the next day. To my surprise, the jury was given box lunches and taken to the jury room for deliberations. 

I admit the opening statements had persuaded me the defendant was guilty. However, after being overwhelmed with so much technical data about DNA, drugs, fingerprints, etc., I found myself wavering. A straw poll showed the jury was divided, so we decided to go back over the evidence to see if we could achieve some degree of unity. 

As it turned out, I was one of only two people on the jury who had bothered to take notes during the proceedings. My notes enabled the jury to recreate what we had heard, so I was elected the foreman.

In our initial deliberations, the African American jurors were adamant about defending the black man to make sure he didn’t get railroaded. I put each charge up on the blackboard, along with its elements. We then placed against each charge a summary of the evidence we had heard. As we reviewed each charge and its elements against the evidence, it became increasingly clear that the defendant was in fact guilty. Suddenly a new dynamic occurred. The blacks on the jury now wanted the defendant found guilty of every charge and element, even though they hadn’t clearly been proven in the trial.

I appealed to the jury: “We can only deliver to the judge a guilty verdict on the charges that we unanimously agree have been proven by the evidence.”

A jury member who was a bus driver answered me. “You don’t understand. We have to live in this community. We can’t have this kind of man here causing trouble in the future.”

I replied, “We have unanimously found him guilty on a majority of the charges. He’s going to go to prison. But it isn’t right to find him guilty of additional charges that haven’t been proven.”

With that argument, the jury reluctantly united and we finally reached an agreement. Everyone was relieved. We were tired and eager to go home. It was 10:30 p.m. when the court reassembled and I gave the judge our findings. After the judge read the guilty verdict he said, “This courtroom is occupied tomorrow with another trial and I have to be in another city for a different trial. I couldn’t tell you before, but the defendant will now stand trial on the ‘Three Strike Law.’ If he is found guilty of being a habitual criminal, he will have a more severe sentence.” He cleared his throat. “Trial council, call your first witness.”

We were all in shock that our jury duty wasn’t completed after all. Fortunately, the trial moved along, and at 2:30 a.m. the defendant was found guilty of being a habitual criminal and sentenced accordingly. Weary but happy with the opportunity of having had the experience, I hurried home to bed.

As it turned out, I discovered the trial in TARGETED was at the federal level and had significant differences from the one I had been involved in. Fortunately, a member of my church was a lawyer who had participated in federal trials and I was able to call on him for accurate information. Yep, and I didn’t have to stay up to 2:30 a.m. to achieve it.  

  1. So very interesting!! Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Enjoyed reading these true stories. My family now lives near the Amazon in Belem, Brazil and we visit river communities often (we have a ministry here), where it’s not hard for the imagination to create all kinds of survival scenarios. But the irony is that even the people in these river and island communities have cell phones! It looks so out of place. Apparently they charge them from electricity from a generator used 4-6 hours per day. But they have to boat over to Belem to buy credits to continue using them. Makes us shake our heads.

  3. Thank you for posting this extra information! As a daughter of a WWII/Korea veteran, and a veteran myself, I find all of this sort of history very interesting. I wish more authors would share some of their background material! Anything based on history has me fact checking connections, not that I don’t believe the story, but I know there has to be more to it!
    I really enjoy being able to interact like this with the author, makes a book seem so much more personal! It is a first for me. Probably why I went ahead and read all night to get through both books! I don’t do 10+ hour reading marathons very often, but I do read quite a bit. (Maybe a book every day or two). I gather there will be more on this story? Looking forward to reading them!

  4. I love these kinds of stories too, Patti. Once our third book is out (2019???), I’ll be doing more with our website and info like this. BTW, authors love contact with readers, so the hugs are mutual, lol!

  5. Yes, there are several important questions that have yet to be considered! And as I said before, I think once Crystal gets through college, she and Brett would work! Hmmm! Maybe she opts for Annapolis? (nephew was Class of 2004). But most importantly is revealing the office mole One-Bee! Shame it has to be ne of her friends 😦 A vacation to the island maybe? I have faith that Jake and Eve will be ok!
    I’d do this via Facebook, but I signed off 3 years ago and don’t even remember my password! I don’t miss it very often! I expect you could still my profile though!

  6. Yep, one mole coming up in Book 3! No problem to not do this on FB, but if you wanted to you could write an Amazon “review” (comment) for each book. 🙂

  7. Wow! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on a completely different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Excellent choice of colors!

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