Lt. Ei Yamaguchi
Japanese Army Holdout on Peleliu Island Until 1947
Yamaguchi enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and became an officer with the rank of Lieutenant assigned to the 2nd Infantry Regiment. He fought on the mainland of China. Afterwards, sent to Peleliu Island. During September 1944 survived the Battle of Pelelu. Afterwards, he was able to hold out in caves with a group of other Japanese Army and Navy survivors.
During early 1947, a band of 33 Japanese soldiers, commanded by Ei Yamaguchi renews fighting on the island by attacking a Marine patrol with hand grenades. At that time, only 150 Marines were stationed on the island, with 35 dependents. Reinforcement were called in to hunt down the hideouts. American patrols with a Japanese Admiral sent to convince the troops that the war was indeed over finally convinced the holdouts to come out peacefully. The band emerged from the jungle in two groups in late April, lead by Ei Yamaguchi who turned over his sword and unit's battle flags. Media Coverage One 1947 articles state that a Japanese navy enlisted man (who ratted out Yamaguchi's presence on Peleliu) states that Yamaguchi shot one of his own men who wanted to surrender (unconfirmed). It is unclear if Yamaguchi knew the war was over or not.
Until early 1947, Yamaguchi survived as a Japanese holdout.
During the end of March 1947, Marines were paroling a native village when they were suddenly targeted by gunfire and grenades. Luckily, there were no Marine casualties.
On March 19, 1947 at the request of U. S. Navy (USN) Rear Admiral C. A. Pownall (C. O. Marians Naval Forces) a 31 Marine reinforcements from Pearl Harbor were flown to Peleliu Airfield to bolster the garrison. Also, 40 Marines from Guam were also flown to Pelelu. On March 21, 1947 another 15 more were to be flown to join them and war dogs were requested.
The increased Marine garrison was to prepare to potentially hunt down and eliminate a band of Japanese holdouts estimated to be 50 individuals led by an officer that might be well armed. It was believed they had hidden in the north of the island and infiltrated southward to occupy caves on Umurbrogol (Bloody Nose Ridge).
If unsuccessful, the Marine garrison would be ordered to hunt and eliminate them.
Learning of the holdouts, Rear Admiral C. A. Pownall allowed Japanese Prisoner Of War (POW) Rear Admiral Michio Sumikawa (former C. O. 4th Fleet) who was detained at the Guam War Crimes stockade and testifying as a witness in the Guam War Crimes Trial to be flown to Peleliu Airfield in an attempt to reach the holdouts. Accompanied by a Palau native, Sumikawa's initial attempt to communicate with the holdouts were unsuccessful as he was unable to locate them or make direct contact. Inside the cave where they were believed to be hiding, he did locate a pamphlet to combat troops and the Imperial rescript to Japanese soldiers and other signs of habitation including the light of a lantern inside, food, clothing and ammunition. Despite calling out, the holdouts did not reveal themselves. Before departing, he left a personal letter asking them to surrender that was either left in the cave or delivered by the Palau native. Later, the Japanese holdouts responded in a note saying the effort was a hoax with the U. S. using a Nisei (second generation Japanese person) to simulate a Japanese officer and requested to personally meet Admiral Sumikawa, if it was indeed him.
Before his second effort, Sumikawa stated: "I believe one reason the Peleliu Japanese [holdouts] refuse to surrender is the faulty communcations existing when the island was taken by the Americans. They still are not convinced that all is lost. I want to tell them the truth because of my personal feeling to save these men and the possible sick and wounded among them. I have promised Admiral Pownall to give my best cooperation. There are certain risks but one can't undertake a mission of this nature without some uncertainty. I hope I will be sucessful for their sake and to save bloodshed."
On March 31, 1947 Sumikawa escorted by USN Commander Maurice Currie from the Office of Naval Intelligence were flown back to Peleliu Airfield for a second attempt to convince them to surrender, he brought his hanko (personal seal), Japanese newspapers, photos of himself to establish his identity and copies of the Japanese instrument of surrender signed by Emperor Hirohito plus photos of Japanese soldiers being repatriated to Japan. Also, he was provided with a loudspeaker to make verbal announcements.
In 1994 during the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Peleliu, Yamaguchi returned to Peleliu Island and revisited the cave where he and other other Japanese holdouts survived until early 1947.
Eric Mailander recalls:
"Speaking of Japanese, in 1994, during the 50th anniversary return to the island, several Marine veterans asked me to take them the last hideout cave of Lt. Yamaguchi's located near the beach. Today a sign is posted near a road about 100 meters or so from his cave. We started trudging through the mangrove swamps and found it. I crawled inside and noticed U.S. gear and supplies scattered inside! I figured the Japanese stole the supplies after the battle. Just as I popped my head out of the cave to was show the vets a U.S. hand grenade that I had found, an entourage of people appeared out of nowhere. It was NBC Dateline camera crews filming Lt. Yamaguchi returning to his hideout along with a few other Japanese vets! Our timing was incredible! One of the camera men asked me to exit the cave so that he could film Yamaguchi's return inside. Without hesitation, I crawled out and photographed the once-in-a-lifetime event. This did not go well with my veteran friends who told me to throw the hand grenade that I was clutching back into the hole after Lt. Yamaguchi crawled in! Somehow. I don't think that would have went well for U.S. and Japanese relationships! It's interesting how some of the American vets still harbor hatred for the Japanese. I did talk with Lt. Yamaguchi via an interpreter while on Peleliu. Last year Col. Joe Alexander and I interviewed him via a professional translator and had his diary translated. In addition, I have accumulated some great archival photos taken during Yamaguchi's surrender to the Island Command in 1947."
Ei Yamaguchi Diary
Honolulu Star-Bulletin "Marines Ordered to Dig OUt Renegade Peleliu Japanese" March 19, 1947 page 1
The Honolulu Advertiser "Former Foe To Aid U. S. In Peleliu / Former Enemy Aids Peleliu Marine Mop-up" March 31, 1947 pages 1, 7
Honolulu Star Bulletin "Last Marines Withdrawn From Peleliu" July 17, 1947 page 7
NBC Dateline "Return To Peleliu" aired August 4, 1995
Dateline: "What were the orders of the Japanese troops; didn't you know the war was over?"
Yamaguchi: "We couldn't believe that we had lost. We were always instructed that we could never lose. It is the Japanese tradition that we must fight until we die, until the end."
Thanks to Eric Mailander for additional information