When a soldier is told to guard an area for his country, he does just that, but on this occasion, this job of “guarding” an area, or an island in this case, was taken to extremes. For a time, the Allies struggled against the Japanese, but by 1945, the tide of World War II had turned decisively against Japan. The Japanese got really nervous as the Americans advanced across the Pacific, drawing ever closer to the Japanese home islands. The American strategists set their sights on Iwo Jima, a small volcanic island about 750 miles south of Tokyo. They saw it as a suitable staging area for an eventual invasion of Japan. Of course, the Japanese were very aware of the threat posed by Iwo Jima landing in American hands. So, they knew they had to garrison the island.
Ymakage Kufuku and Matsudo Linsoki were two Japanese machine gunners assigned to the island’s garrison. I can only imagine how they must have felt, knowing that the attack was imminent, and that they could only sit and wait for it. In February of 1945, Iwo Jima was invaded in one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the entire Pacific War. The Japanese soldiers fought frantically, almost to the last man. Japanese soldiers were taught that it was more honorable to die that survive, if they lost the war. They were taught that rather than surrender, the honorable thing to do was to commit suicide, so out of a garrison of 21,000 Japanese, nearly 20,000 died before the island was declared secured.
Kufuku and Linsoki were among the few Japanese soldiers who didn’t die in the fighting and didn’t commit suicide. They also believing what their government told them about Americans torturing and killing prisoners, so they were too afraid to surrender. The two men felt like they had no choice but to go underground. They also expected that soon the Japanese would be able to take the island back, so they hid during the day in the multitude of tunnels that were all over the island. They came out at night pilfer food and other necessaries from the American garrison’s supply and trash dumps. It was a tough kind of life, but by doing this, Kufuku and Linsoki managed to survive for a long time in a barren and inhospitable island that was mighty short on both vegetation and game. The Americans weren’t interested in exploring Iwo Jima’s hard landscape, a fact that allowed the two Japanese soldiers to go unnoticed for years.
Finally, on January 6th, 1949, two US Air Force corporals in a Jeep spotted a couple of pedestrians in uniforms that looked to be a few sizes too big. The men were walking alongside a road. The soldiers thought the men were Chinese laborers. The men spoke no English and they didn’t seem to want to talk, but the American airmen just assumed they were hitchhiking to the island’s main base and gave them a lift. They dropped them off in front of the garrison’s headquarters building. That probably left Kufuku and Linsoki a little bit unnerved. Nevertheless, they didn’t want to seem suspicious, so they wandered around the American base for hours, at least until a passing American sergeant realized that they were Japanese and took them in. The men were interrogated, and afterward, they took their captors to their hideout. There, to their amazement, the Americans found a cave richly stocked with canned foods, flashlights, batteries, uniforms, boots, shoes, socks, and other goods that the pair had been pilfering over the years. I’m quite sure they recognized some of the items from the base. While the Japanese soldiers did no real harm, their self-imposed secret mission had come to an end.