The Pacific War ended on September 2, 1945, however, occasionally
Japanese holdouts in the Northern Marianas were found who had managed
to hide and survive for many years following the conclusion of hostilities.
One such group of stranded survivors of a Japanese vessel sunk by the
American military found their way to the island of Anatahan,75 nautical
miles north of Saipan. At 16 degrees -22 ‘ north x 145 degrees - 40’
east, the island’s coast line is precipitous with landing beaches on the
northern and western shore and a small sandy beach on the southwest
shore. It’s steep slopes are furrowed by deep gorges covered by high
grass. This brooding cone jutting from the sea floor is a large, extinct
volcano with two peaks and a grass covered flat field, the final resting
place for a B-29 Superfortress that crashed upon returning from a
bombing mission over Nagoya, Japan on January 3, 1945 killing the
By 1951 the Japanese holdouts on the island refused to believe
that the war was over and resisted every attempt by the United States
Navy to remove them. This group was first discovered in February 1945,
when several Chamorros from Saipan were sent to the island to recover
the bodies of the Saipan based B-29, T square 42, from the 498th Bomb
Group, 875th Squadron, 73rd Wing under the command of Richard
Carlson Stickney, Jr. The Chamorros reported that there were about thirty
Japanese survivors from three Japanese ships sunk in June 1944, one of
which was an Okinawan woman.
Pamphlets had been dropped informing the holdouts that the war was
over and that they should surrender, but these requests were ignored.
They lived a sparse life, eating coconuts, taro, wild sugar cane,
fish and lizards. They smoked crushed, dried papaya leaves wrapped in
the leaves of bananas and made an intoxicating beverage known as
"tuba", (coconut wine). They lived in palm frond huts with woven floor
matting of pandanus. Their life improved after the crash of the aircraft .
They used metal from the B-29 to fashion crude implements such as
pots, knives and roofing for their hut. The oxygen tanks were used to
store water, clothing was made from nylon parachutes, the cords used
for fishing line. The springs from machine guns were fashioned into fish
hooks. Several in the group also had machine guns and pistols recovered
from the aircraft.
Personal aggravations developed as a result of being too long in
close association within a small group on a small island and also
because of tuba drinking. The presence of only one woman, Kazuko
Higa, caused great difficulty as well. Six of eleven deaths that occurred
among the holdouts were the result of violence. One man displayed
thirteen knife wounds. Ms. Higa would, from time to time, transfer her
affections between at least four of the men after each mysteriously
disappeared as a result of "being swallowed by the waves while fishing."
In July 1950, Ms. Higa went to the beach when an American vessel
appeared off shore and asked to be removed from the island. She was
taken to Saipan aboard the Miss Susie and, upon arrival, informed
authorities that the men on the island did not believe the war was over.
Meanwhile, officials of the Japanese government became interested
in the situation on Anatahan and asked the Navy for information
"concerning the doomed and living Robinson Crusoes who were living a
primitive life on an uninhabited island", and offered to send a ship to
The families of the Japanese holdouts on the island of Anatahan ,
were contacted in Japan and requested by the U. S. Navy to write
letters advising them that the war was over and that they should
surrender. In January 1951, a message from the Governor of Kanagawa
Prefecture was delivered to them which read:
I am very proud to learn that all of you are in good health and still
residing on a small island in the Pacific six years after the war is over .
I will not blame you for saying that our country lost this war.
That was six years ago in 1945. It was the 15th of August 1945 when
the peace treaty was signed (sic!).
Our country lost this war, but we are not unfortunate, as the
United States is giving us the best of opportunities to recover and I am
sure that we are the best of friends in the present world.
During the war it was said that the American soldiers were killing
all prisoners of war, but that was not true. The United States treated
our prisoners the best until 1947 when all of them were released and
sent home. Now there are no other Japanese military men in the Pacific
except you gentlemen.
Previously, in our country, a prisoner of war lost face so that
even after the war if he came home he had to live in a dark world. That
is not so now. The Emperor ordered all our people, wherever they were,
to surrender peacefully. All of those returned will never be separated
from their home people again. Those who have returned to Japan give the
Americans thanks that the long period of their suffering is over . .
I believe you have read letters from your family which said not to
worry which will give you confidence to give yourself up to the
Americans. In the box of new letters sent to you we are enclosing a
piece of white cloth with which you can signal the Navy boat. You do not
have to worry. The Americans will give you their best attention and
kindness until you are returned to our country .
The letters were dropped by air on June 26 and finally convinced
the holdouts that they should give themselves up. Thus, six years after
the end of World War II, "Operation Removal" got underway from Saipan
under the Command of James B. Johnson, USNR, aboard the Navy Tug
USS Cocopa. Lt. Commander James B. Johnson and Mr. Ken Akatani,
an interpreter, went ashore by rubber boat and formally accepted the last
surrender of World War II on the morning of June 30, 1951 which also
coincided with the last day of the Naval Administration of the Trust
Territory of the Pacific Islands.
The men, with their few possessions neatly placed in woven pandanus
bags along with several implements from the metal of the B-29, boarded
the Cocopa and sailed for Guam. One week later they arrived in Tokyo
aboard a U. S. Navy aircraft.
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