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Japan's WWII 'no surrender' soldier dies

Shoichi Yokoi

Hid in jungle until 1972

September 23, 1997
Web posted at: 3:47 p.m. EDT (1547 GMT)

TOKYO (CNN) -- A Japanese soldier who became an instant national hero after it was discovered that he stayed in the jungles of Guam for 26 years after the end of World War II, has died of a heart attack at age 82, hospital officials said Tuesday.

Shoichi Yokoi died Monday at a hospital in the central city of Nagoya.

He became a national hero on his return to Japan in 1972 for his dramatic tale of survival and his adherence to the former Imperial Army's code of never surrender.

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

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 was accused of killing several villagers before he was discovered in the Philippine jungle.

Yokoi's home for 26 years

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. He was 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 with a limited "self-defense" force instead of an army, and was 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 earlier.

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.

Tokyo Bureau Chief John Lewis and Reuters contributed to this report.


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