by Jeff McCall
In March of '74 I was employed as agent of the Kvisgin Oil
Concern to go into
the jungle of the Philippine island of Lubang with express orders to try
and convince a
mister lieutenant Hiroo Onada, who'd been missing since he was ordered
to disappear in late December 1944, to stop
fighting World War II. The Lieutenant's official orders back in '44 had
been,[explained by to
him by top brass on a well lit sun porch] "You will neither surrender nor
die by your own hand.
As long as you have one soldier, including yourself and as the one
might have left,
you are ordered to use what ever means necessary to wage war against the
When the war is
over, we'll come and get you. We wish you luck."
"We wish you luck," is exactly what the Tetsuo, the oil
had said to me when
the jeep dropped me off at the jungle. they'd dug up an old Japanese
uniform for me to
wear so that Onada would think I'm the Japanese come to get him. "but
not Japanese." "oh,
it doesn't matter," they said. "just keep it on or he'll probably kill
you." checking myself
and my gear and thinking something's been left out. camera, tape
picture of Onada's
mother a banner with his family colors, lantern, beans, beef jerky,
lighters, sleeping sheet and mosquito netting, still... "are you sure I
shouldn't be taking a
gun or even a knife or something. a knife especially. I mean, how could
if I have-"
"It's Absolutely necessary that you not be armed at all.
we've lost agents
like this before, Cummings. Think about it, Onada has been in that
jungle for 26 years.
He's lost all
his sense of time and place. He thinks he's still fighting the war. if
senses that you have
a weapon he'll think you've come to kill him."
"But what about the uniform?"
"yes, keep it on. now, remember, put up the banner before
"and then wait."
"He'll just see the banner or something, and just come
"you might try calling out to him. say something like, 'I
just want to
won, you can come out now.'-whatever. just be congenial."
"but I don't speak Japanese."
"it doesn't matter."
"how can it not matter?"
"Look, we're paying you a lot of money and you're holding
up the story, so
you should have enough stuff for five days out there. we'll be back in
days. if Onoda comes
out, give him the letter. it will explain everything. we wish you..."
so I walk down this path that comes to a clearing about
800 yards in and set
if they think I'm walking around in this mess and getting lost, forget
banner over a tree limb. it was long and silk with yin-yang circles at
three columns of
slicy lines. Onoda's family banner. strange how I'd gotten this job.
Manila doing some free lance photography, mostly for bird enthusiast
and I'm out on a
job taking some wild shots of cocteaus, when my guide tells me that he
man who's looking
for an American and is paying big money. thus, I'm put in touch with
"$25,000, five nights in the jungle." he requires that I accept or
decline before he tells me
any more. what the hey? then I find out about Lt. Hiroo Onada, and his
guerrilla warfare. how all ten of his men had either abandoned him or
killed. how they'd
sent Onoda's own brother to try and talk him out, but he never revealed
he only left
them a note painted on the side of a rock that read, "impostor. war
later, I'd hear from a fisherman at the a bar in Manila that in
the last few
Onoda's taken to raiding the oil company's property, blowing up their
their trees, slashing the tires on their trucks. the highlanders call
Malaveyovo, he tells
me, their mythic cannibal that lives in the woods. they make offerings
vegetables to him to
keep him fed. it's comforting to know that the psychotic killer on the
the jungle is
eating his greens.
but this wasn't a bad gig. heck, for the money this was cake.
didn't show on
the first night I was a little disheartened. but I spent the days
down into the
jungle by way of that one path, careful to watch if it split or did
obfuscate my chances of getting right back to camp, but it simply
under the squawking green canopy and constant mist, plants radiating
The War's long been ovA!
it's time to Surrr-ender,
this 26 yeeear Bender.
the Oil Company sent me here,
there are no weapons in my gear,
don't kill me!
i'm just a messsssengeerr!
I was having a blast. at night I'd make a little fire and
heat a can of refried
a sauce pan and then fall asleep singing my Onoda song quietly to myself.
the beans and beef
jerky increased the frequency my flatulation to an almost constant
but it seemed
to keep the mosquitoes away, and that peppered beef was mmmhmmm good.
night, after one
such campfire feast, just as the last flicker of fire went out and the
were left to glow
there in the darkness and my eyelids drooped to a slit, I felt a knife
no question this was Onoda. who else? so, of course I wasn't
going to make any
moves. but he just sat there behind me with the knife to my throat for
anything that I began to feel kindof silly.
"I'm not armed. I have a letter for you," I said, once
the power of
"if you had been armed, you'd be dead."
"yeah, that's what they told me."
"it's the uniform that threw me. why are you dressed up
like that? Who
"The Kvisgin Oil Concern. I have a letter for you."
he took the knife away. still not feeling so good about moving,
I wait to turn
and when I do, he's gone. then he's back, and he's got some wood. he
wood onto the
fire and takes his canteen from his belt, opens it, and pours it onto the
except for the
belt and his tattered camouflage shorts, he was totally naked. even
(I was wearing
army surplus jungle boots and wet socks). his hair was a tangled mess of
and gray and
white with leaves and his beard was overgrown, which gave him the look of
trim (how old did they say he was?) 22 year old Karl Marx surfer dude.
strikes a match,
the shadows of his face light up, and his high round cheeks glow like
apples resting on
his beard. his eyes, caught within the blazing shadows of his brow, are
of coal (they
say he'd trained his eyes to not reflect light, thus to become a more
he could not, however, eliminate total glare, especially with the match
close, and what was
left of his eyes were like slivers of waxing crescent moons. he throws
match onto the wood
and it catches in an instant whoosh! to flames.
"Now what about this letter," says Onoda.
I go into my bag and pull out the plain manila envelope
I'd been commissioned
and hand it over to him, somewhat disappointed for some reason, but
he sits down on a
log and opens it up, removes a thick stack of documents and photos. he
little of the
first page and succumbs to a hysterical laughter that echoes under the
trees, startling a
flock of birds to fly away. he falls off his log.
I'm leaning over trying to see what it was he saw in the pictures that
fall all over
the place in his tempestuous guffaw. There's pictures of Tokyo, New
of the earth from
space and one of the moon landing, pictures of television, nuclear
and various post
cards from Disney Land.
Onoda's laugh, like a train slowing to the station, begins to
lose momentum so
is able to pick himself up and sit down again.
still giggling a bit, he says, "sorry about that. I just get a
of these people."
"I don't understand. you are Onoda, right?"
"They call me Veyovo now. but, yes, I'm the man you're
"do you mind if I ask what's so funny?"
he grins. "this letter," points to the scattered pages on the
"says that the war
is over and that Japan is a supreme super power of the world, and that I
return home to
take my place as a national hero."
um...that was the cover story, so... "well aren't you still
"what, are you kidding? where the hell have you been? the
war's been over
They think I don't know about these things. I've seen movies, I've seen
television. For years I
planned to go to Hollywood and assassinate the film academy one by one
giving Frank Sinatra
an Oscar for From Here to Eternity."
"they think you're still fighting the war. why didn't you
go back when
they came to get
"why go back? Japan was decimated after the war was over. I
to go back to.
here on the other hand...," he spreads out his arms, "here I have the
jungle to take care of
me. and a beach. and a house with a pool and a Jacuzzi. the villagers
around all the time
with vegetables. life is good here. why would I want to go back?"
his point was convincing, and I had nothing to add, so I just
"the real question to me is," he said finally, "is why do
want me to come back?"
"aren't you bombing their trucks? blowing up their wells and
"that's just in the last few months. there have been
attempts to retrieve
me ever since
the war ended. but that's actually the funniest part of the letter,"
looking around on the
ground for one of the pages, he finds it, "get this: they've offered me
50,000 shares in their
company if I stop bombing. HA!"
"50,000 shares. that sounds like a pretty good deal."
"I already own 250,000 shares in their goddamned company, or
then my lightbulb went off.
"Ah! You're selling them short, blowing up their stuff, and
then when the
you collect the difference, right?"
he just grins through his Velcro beard.
"don't get too wise and make me have to kill you. i've got plans
i'll buy a cattle ranch in Brazil. maybe build a nature park for kids.
dunno. there's going
to be alot to go around. maybe you want in on some of this action too,
much are they
paying you to come out here?"
"whew," he whistles, "that's a lot of money for a kid your
they must have thought
I'd kill you and then wouldn't have to pay it. yes, that's definitely
this is much better. oh yeah. go back, get the money, and wire 20,000 to
account in Zurich.
do you have a pen? I'll write down the number for you."
I go into my bag and get out my notebook and a pen for him.
"then, once that money is in place, take the rest of it and open
account at the Bank
of Manila under your own name and wait. in a few weeks, my friend, you
be a very
"how will you know what account to wire it to, you don't even
"You're Wally Cummins."
"wow, how did you know?"
"it's written in your underwear if I'm not mistaken."
hmmm, this was true, but I didn't get a chance to ask him
anything more. he
all the information that I needed to get the money. then he checked his
pocketwatch and said he
had to be getting home. Hee-Haw was about to come on.
sitting there with my campfire and a stack of random pictures
from the latter
the 20th century, wondering how the hell he's getting Hee-Haw way down
not even sure
if it's the right year for it.
at the end of the five days I walked out of the jungle and Testuo
waiting there with the jeep, looking genuinely surprised to see me.
"well, hey, you made it. great," he said as I threw my stuff
back, "did you see
him? did you give him the letter?"
"yeah, I gave it to him."
"and what did he say?"
"nothing much. he's a total lunatic. thought all the
tricks to make him come out. I doubt if he could come out now. really
animal than human,
you know, living in the jungle so long."
the island wind smelled sweet and fresh as the jeep picked up
unsatisfied with my answers. he kept turning around like he was about to
but then checks himself, and shakes it off.
"I guess you've got some money coming to you," he resigned.
that's right, i thought, closing my eyes and sucking in the salty