There are stories that we hear that sound too bizarre to be true. More often than not, we put them down as nothing more than urban myths. However, one of the joys of travel is the unexpected discovery that some of these tall tales are true. I made such a find on a recent trip to the island of Guam.
This resort island, designated a US territory, is approximately 1,550 miles (2,494 km) south of Japan. Bordered by the Philippine Ocean to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east, Guam is a popular holiday destination for overworked Japanese. Here, tourists can enjoy pristine beaches, clear blue waters abundant with tropical fish and US-style shopping and dining only a few short hours by plane from Tokyo.
Those versed in military history will know Guam as the staging point for the US forces victory in the Pacific after successfully invading and recapturing the island from the Japanese in 1944. The US military have remained on Guam until the present day, with Anderson Air Force Base situated in the north and a Naval Station in the southwest of the island.
The presence of these military installations may help explain the proficiency of American-style restaurants like Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood, TGI Fridays and department stores on an island that is only 30 miles (48 km) in length.
But away from the beachfront hotels, the designer outlets and the steakhouses, a strange but unique story of World War II is retold. In the south of the island, amongst the lush jungle interior, the Ugum River gently cascades over a series of waterfalls, known as the Talofofo Falls.
The falls make for a picturesque location to enjoy the lush beauty of the Guam landscape. But the real interest of the area lies at the end of walking trail 10 minutes from the base of the falls. Here, the heroic yet tragic tale of Shoichi Yokoi, a World War II Japanese soldier is recorded and remembered by a simple plaque and Buddhist shrine.
As the US forces invaded and steadily reclaimed Guam in 1944, Japanese forces retreated to the cover of the island’s jungle terrain. Three soldiers, including Shoichi Yokoi, took refuge in the jungle surrounding the falls, constructing a simple and cramped cave in which to hide from the invading forces. The tragedy of this tale is that the Japanese soldiers’ resourcefulness and ability to stay hidden meant their presence went undetected by the US forces.
Their self-imposed isolation in the Guam jungle ensured that the surrender and eventual conclusion of World War II went unnoticed by this intrepid trio. Yokoi’s two comrades, Jiji and Nakahada, eventually died of food poisoning during their jungle hiding. However, Yokoi amazingly survived 28 years in his cave before being discovered by local farmers in 1972.
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