Sunday, May 29, 2005

Band of Brothers: The Lost Patrol

The news here in Manila over America's Memorial Day weekend is that two octogenarian veterans of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during WWII may finally be ready to surrender. The soldiers, Yoshio Yamakawa, 87, and Tszuzuki Nakauchi, 85, apparently decided to remain on the island of Mindanao and take their chances in the jungle rather than return to Japan when the rest of the Japanese forces withdrew in 1945. Both men have been officially dead in Japan since shortly after the war.

Stories on the men were carried by MSNBC, A.P. and Reuters and attracted enough worldwide attention to bring a large international press contingent and some government officials from Japan to the southernmost island in the Philippines, but while rumors about the men abound, according to a Manila Bulletin story, neither of them has yet made a public appearance. Some officials are even calling the story a hoax.

The last officially recognized Japanese soldier found serving in the Philippines, General Hiroo Onoda, returned to Japan in 1974 after his former commanding officer told him officially and in person that the war was over. A large contingent of Japanese soldiers had occupied Mindanao during WWII, but the province has always been problematic as it lies close to parts of both Malaysia and Indonesia and roughly half of its population is Muslim. The Spanish and American colonial governments of the Philippines never really established complete control over Mindanao and the province has remained a hotbed of unrest since the Philippines became independent in 1946. Communist and Muslim separatist groups both have active guerrilla insurgencies in the jungles where the Japanese veterans are alleged to live. Some people speculate that there may have been as many as forty undischarged Japanese veterans living in the province.

I mention it here because living memory of WWII is now on the verge of fading to black, just as living memory of the Civil War in America did during the decade leading up to WWII.

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