It seems the story’s spread was due more to an episode of Gilligan’s Island than to the facts about Lt Onoda, who was finally found and repatriated from the Philippines in 1974.
In 1984 I was building small village water supplies in Western Province of Solomon Islands. In the jungle on the island of Vella Lavella I found plasticised paper notes in Japanese.
Come Home. The War is Over.
These had been dropped a few years before to convince one such soldier, believed at the time to be on Vella Lavella, to surrender himself.
It turned out there had been a local legend of a lost soldier on the island, but I could not establish for certain how long the story had existed
My enquiries and conversations with local people and expats who had lived there for a long time finally led me to believe that the claims of his existence may have been made up, probably after the news of Lt Onoda being foundin the Philippines. Someone saw the business opportunity, perhaps.
What is certainly true is that quite a lot of money was spent locally hiring guides for, and accommodating search parties to look for the lost soldier and for the airdrops of leaflets that were made.
No one was ever found. Nor, as far as I am aware was any evidence of his existence.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
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