Japanese Holdouts Accounts

Visiting Sgt Yokoi's Cave
Report from Catherine Farr

My story is dedicated to my grandsons, Bobby, Logan and Devon, and those who are yet to come.

It was 1972, I had just turned 20, was serving my first tour in the USAF, then known as WAF (women in the Air Force). I was serving as the administrative clerk under Major Robert E. Lowy, Hq 8th Air Force (SAC), Andersen AFB, Guam, in what was then dubbed “Project Volunteer”, the Air Forces’ first formalized effort to reconcile race relations and equal opportunity and treatment. Major Lowy was important to me in a couple of significant ways – he was the first boss I ever had that challenged me to do my best and told me I was smart. Secondly, we shared an extraordinary experience, the subject of this story, which has kept him in my memory these past 30 years.

The Major knew that I had been raised on Guam (which is another story), and asked if I would take he and his wife, Laura, and two children Beth and Richard, sightseeing. They wanted to get a feel of the island and see some of the sights the island was known for. (As a teenager I had visited Talafofo Falls several times and thought the route my girlfriend Sharon Quintanilla (nee Owens) had taken me over would be the most adventurous and colorful way to get there. It was a way that only the Guamanians used and was a hike I thought they would enjoy. I checked with Sharon and got some last minute details on the route and was sure I could get us right to it.)

Unbeknownst to the Major was my (still) stunted sense of direction. And, so, trustingly on January 25th @ 7:30 am we started out on our adventure. One that would become a familiar story – to be told and retold by me over the ensuring 30 years to friends, family and anyone interested in WWII stories.

We parked along the roadside in Talafofo, near the beach, where a path had been cut and worn down by local visitors to the falls. Mrs. Lowy had packed a lunch and we carried a variety of soft drinks and snacks in our backpacks. I had estimated it would take us a good 3 hours to get there, and would arrive with plenty of time to swim at the base of the falls, have lunch and then, refreshed, hike back.

I set out with great enthusiasm as a “local guide” – proud to be the one to show these “hoalies” the beautiful falls, unspoiled by “civilization” since there wasn’t any easy access at that time. ( Hoalie - local slang for foreigner – I was considered hoppa (? Sp) hoalie since I had grown up on Guam from age 2).

Catherine Farr in the cave

Looking inside Yokoi's cave

View outwards from cave

About an hour into our hike we came to a ranch owned by a local family. In my previous trips to the Falls I had watched my friends Uncle ask permission and pay respects to the older man who tended the garden. We hailed him, told him who we were and where we were headed, and in the gracious, friendly style of the Chamorro’s he took us across the river on his homemade ferry. He also shared some of his beetlenut with us – and laughed as we tried it – it’s bitter taste making our lips pucker.

Hiking through the jungle boonies into tall sword grass and a bright unrelenting sun, had us sweating and anticipating the cool water of the falls ahead. After another hour or so I began to realize we were lost. As we trudged along a red dirt road, dodging dragon flies and singing “follow the red dirt road” to the Oz tune, hot and sweaty, I dreaded having to admit my ineptness as a island tour guide to- of all people – my boss! (memories of punishments metted out in basic training - of cleaning the latrine with a tooth brush and picking up butts around the compound, flitted through my mind.)
Feigning a confidence I didn’t feel, I suggested we take a break – having come upon a shaded area. Everyone was optimistic and excited about the next bend in the road as we sat down to have a cool drink and a snack. I was mentally blessing the shade and working up my courage to tell the group we were lost – when two Guamanian men came striding out of the tall sword grass.

After “Hafa Adai’s” were exchanged, we introduced ourselves and told them where we were headed. Having admitted that I was the guide, one of the men looked at me and said “lost huh?”.

In the meantime, Mrs. Lowy had struck up a conversation with a Mr. Duenas I believe. She had prepared “Hoagies” for lunch and was in the midst of spreading things out. Mr. D. pulled out his lunch which was wrapped in foil – a blackened fish (type?) which looked very tough and crusty. By the time we joined them they had agreed to taste test each others lunch, and Mrs. Lowy was pleasantly surprised to find the fish, once broken open, was moist, flaky and delicious. They immediately engaged in a cooking discussion, hoagies hadn’t made it to the South Pacific at that time. (To this day Mrs. Lowy revealed that she not only remembers the taste of that fish with relish, but prepares her dish is the same fashion.)
The men told us about their discovery the previous day. They were the ones who had brought in the last Japanese straggler! I had heard a news flash the day before – Sgt Sochi Yokoi, who had been hiding in the Guam Jungle for @30 years had been captured by two local men who were out hunting in the Talafofo area.

We all reacted with enthusiasm and were soon being led back into the jungle by our new guides (with a much better chance of not getting lost). We were off on a new adventure!

After a period of time we came to a stop. “Well, do you see it”? Mr. Duenas asked. We were surrounded by a forest of bamboo and tangantan(boonie) trees. You could hear the musical rustle of the bamboo as the breeze worked to get through. The floor of the jungle was damp and musty from a covering of dead leaves and tree branches and there was a small creek at the bottom of the embankment where we stood and we could hear the water on the rocks. We couldn’t see anything that even remotely looked like the opening to a cave. We all shook our heads.
With a grin of satisfaction that came from knowing the secret, one of our guides lifted up a well concealed thatched cover revealing what appeared to be a large hole in the ground.”Here it is” he said, smiling, “you want to go in?” Before I realized what had happened I was “volunteered” to go down the hole. There was a hand made ladder – woven together from the bark of trees, which I used to descend into the hole. I couldn’t see much from the top of the hole and couldn’t imagine what I was getting into. It seemed incredible that someone had spent 30 years here….

Stepping off the ladder carefully (I was really scared but didn’t want to let it show with the Major and everyone watching – but I remember wondering if they could hear my heart thundering.), I peered into the dark space. As my eyes adjusted to the soft lighting from above, I began to see shapes form out of the darkness.

The cave was tunneled out below the entrance. I moved off into what appeared to be a sleeping area. A mat woven from coconut leaves lay in a carved out recess, giving the appearance of a built in bed (like a bunk on a small boat – with about as much room). Squatting, I tried to imagine laying in the darkness and wondered if I would have felt safe? Lonely?

Turning, I peered at an area prepared for worship (was he Buddhist?). Some type of shrine was carved into the wall – where a small bowl made from coconut lay. Did he place offerings here to his ancestors when he prayed. Did he pray for rescue from this isolation or release? I thought it odd that this cave, carved into the earth, felt so clean. After viewing this area set aside for worship I felt like an intruder. And, so with a quick look at the one other remaining “room” (I saw what appeared to be hand made utensils and other items), I scooted back to the ladder and up into the fresh air and sunshine. As I came out of the opening a camera flashed – capturing the moment. Laura Lowy later did an oil painting of this snapshot, which still hangs in their home. The children also went down into the cave to explore – and I understand they still remember that experience.

Throughout the following weeks I read accounts of Yokoi’s interview with the Governor, his return to Japan and later his marriage. A year or so later I was down on the beach at Tumon Bay and saw a Japanese man and woman being escorted to a waiting helicopter. I later found out that this was Sgt Yokoi who had returned with his new bride to show her where he had survived the past 30 years.

Time passed and everyone went their separate ways. Over the years as I’ve recounted this adventure to numerous friends and (repeatedly) to family, I would wonder where the Lowy’s were. I made a couple of attempts at contacting them through the USAF worldwide locator – but nothing ever came of it. In 2003 I was on the internet and stumbled onto a people search site – and, so, for $19.95 I was able to locate “my Major Lowy” and his wife! I placed a call to the number from the internet and got an answering machine. I left a rambling message hoping I wasn’t sounding like some nutcase, said a prayer and waited. That evening I received a call from the Major! Bob and Laura are now living outside Atlanta. Bob retired from the Air Force as a Colonel . I was thrilled to make contact with them and found that they not only have pictures of that day, which they copied and sent on to me.

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