When Sergeant Soichi Yokoi of the Japanese Imperial Army was captured after 28 years as a fugitive in the jungles of Guam, he was wearing clothes that he had made himself from fibers he had peeled from the bark of a Pago tree. Such was the astonishing level of his self-sufficiency that he was met with total disbelief until he explained to his captors how he was able to survive for over a quarter of a century by living off the natural resources of the land. One does not have to be on Guam long to appreciate the density of tropical growth in the jungle. You push it back to get more acreage for farming and it bounces right back to reclaim what you have taken.
During the enemy occupation in World War II, many of our young men and boys who got into trouble or refused to submit to harsh authority took refuge in the jungle and did not emerge until after the island was liberated. But they knew the jungle; had clothing and equipment with them; spoke the native language; and, as we now know, they were in periodic contact with their families.
At about the same time, an American sailor, Petty Officer George Ray Tweed was also in hiding in the bushes. Although enemy patrols were constantly searching for him, he was able to survive by being fed, clothed, and relocated by Chamorro patriots out of loyalty to the United States.
Following the recapture of Guam, all enemy soldiers in hiding either surrendered or were captured after a few months; or, so it was assumed. The odds against a fugitive -- who did not speak the language, had no friends, possessed no equipment, and who had to search for food -- surviving in such an environment was essentially zero. But survived he did until he was chased down and captured by Manuel De Gracia and Jesus Duenas of Talofofo while the fugitive was foraging for food.
Sergeant Soichi Yokoi was intensely loyal to his emperor and believed fervently that to surrender would bring dishonor to himself and disservice to his emperor. He was willing to undergo incredible hardship and loneliness rather than give up.
To eke out an existence, Sergeant Yokoi did remarkable things in the jungle. This is a depiction of the cave he built for himself seven feet underground. To minimize smoke billowing from his cave, he devised a filter made of coconut husks that served that purpose as well as cut down the telling odor of cooking.
A principal part of his diet was fadang, a local plant whose nuts are used to make a kind of tortilla. Fadang, however, is well known for its high toxicity when it is not prepared properly prior to cooking, a process that is lengthy and laborious. Remarkably, Sergeant Yokoi not only discovered that fadang was edible but, astonishingly, devised a way to prepare the nuts properly before cooking.
Somehow, Sergeant Yokoi also found out that the bark of the Pago tree is made of very strong fibers. For centuries,the Chamorros used the bark of this tree to make rope. Sergeant Yokoi went much further. From thin fibers he made a fabric and from that fabric he made clothing material with which to make his Japanese Army uniform. Sergeant Yokoi not only survived but he taught us a big lesson in courage, loyalty, and human endurance. Friends and foes alike welcomed this man back to society and, as a soldier of the sea, I saluted him when I finally had a chance to meet him years later when he returned to Guam for a sentimental visit.
In September 1997, at age 82, Sergeant Yokoi finally succumbed to heart failure - twenty five years after he emerged from the jungles of Guam.