Belated Surrenders

For most Japanese, World War II ended in 1945. But not for some:

  • Shoichi Yokoi, a soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army, was discovered in a remote section of Guam in 1972. He had been hiding in an underground jungle cave for 28 years, refusing to believe leaflets that said the war had ended.
  • 2nd. Lt. Hiroo Onoda hid in the Philippines jungle for 29 years. He finally gave up in 1974, when his old commanding officer convinced him the war was over. He surrendered in his dress uniform and sword, with his Arisaka rifle still in operating condition, 500 rounds of ammunition, and several hand grenades.
  • The last holdout, Capt. Fumio Nakahira of the Japanese Imperial Army, was discovered on Mindoro Island in the Philippines in April 1980 — 35 years after V-J Day.

“It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive,” Yokoi said on returning to Japan. He got $300 in back pay.

MV Joyita

In 1955, the merchant vessel Joyita disappeared en route from Samoa to the Tokelau Islands, about 270 miles away.

A search and rescue mission found nothing, but five weeks later she was sighted more than 600 miles from her scheduled route. The ship was partially submerged and there was no trace of her 16 crewmembers or 9 passengers, including two children.

An inquiry found that the disappearance of the passengers and crew was “inexplicable on the evidence submitted.” But the Fiji Times and Herald quoted an “impeccable source” saying that the Joyita had passed through a fleet of Japanese fishing boats and “had observed something the Japanese did not want them to see.”

What was it? No one knows.

Free Falling

http://sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=258375

A falling person reaches a top speed of around 120 mph. After that, all falls are equally dangerous: If you survive the lack of oxygen, a fall of 10,000 feet won’t necessarily hurt you any more than 2,000 feet.

During World War II, at least three airmen survived free falls of around 20,000 feet without a parachute. All three lost consciousness, and two of them landed in deep snow.

In 1972, a Yugoslavian flight attendant fell from 33,330 feet when terrorists blew up her DC-9 over Czechoslovakia. She broke both legs and was paralyzed from the waist down, but only temporarily.

Gentle Giant

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:MartinVanBurenBates.jpeg

Size was no impediment to Martin Van Buren Bates, a quiet schoolteacher who found that his enormous size (7’9″) served him better on the battlefields of the Civil War. The “Kentucky Giant” rose quickly from private to captain in the Fifth Kentucky Infantry; Union soldiers told of a “Confederate giant who’s as big as five men and fights like 50.”

After the war, Bates was touring Canada with a circus when he met Anna Haining Swan, another enormously tall person (7’5″), and they married in London, where Queen Victoria gave them two extra-large diamond-studded gold watches as wedding presents.

Their 18-pound child was stillborn, and they ordered an oversize house custom-built in Ohio, with 14-foot ceilings and giant furniture. “To see our guests make use of it,” wrote Bates, “recalls most forcibly the good Dean Swift’s traveler in the land of Brobdingnag.”

The pair toured again, and lost another son, this one 28 inches tall and weighing 22 pounds. “He looked at birth like an ordinary child of six months,” Bates wrote. But “with this exception our lot has been one of almost uninterrupted joy.”

When Anna died in 1886, Martin sold the house and married a woman of normal stature, with whom he lived peacefully until he died of nephritis in Seville in 1919.

Tunguska Redux

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tunguska_event_fallen_trees.jpg

Somebody up there hates Siberia.

On June 30, 1908, something huge exploded over the Tunguska River near modern Evenkia. The blast felled 60 million trees over 2,150 square kilometers; it’s been estimated at between 10 and 15 megatons. Witnesses described a huge fireball moving across the sky, a flash, and a shockwave that knocked people off their feet and broke windows up to 400 miles away. Afterward, the night sky glowed for weeks.

But, strangely, there was no crater. In fact, a few trees near ground zero were still standing, their branches and bark stripped off. Stranger still, some reports said the skyglow had begun the night before the explosion, and that there had been strange weather and increased seismic activity for days beforehand. And carbon-14 dating of the soil gave a date in the future — meaning the soil had somehow become enriched with radioactive carbon-14.

What caused the explosion? A meteor? A comet? An asteroid? There’s been no conclusive explanation. But, disturbingly, a similar thing happened just three years ago. An explosion in Siberia in September 2002 that measured up to 5 kilotons was accompanied by northern lights, increased radioactivity, and an outbreak of unknown diseases nearby. An expedition the following year concluded that it was a comet, but no one knows for sure.

Society of Mind

http://www.urville.com/

Urville is a city of 14 million inhabitants that exists entirely in the mind of Gilles Trehin, a French autistic savant.

Trehin began creating plans at the age of 12, using Lego blocks and model airplanes. Today, at 33, he has drawn extensive maps and landscapes of his creation, as well as inventing a culture and a detailed history going back to the 12th century B.C., when he imagines the city was founded by the Phoenicians.

Today, in Trehin’s mind, Urville is the third largest city in the developed world, behind Tokyo and New York, and boasts 87 cinemas, 42 cabarets, 174 public swimming pools and European offices of I.B.M., Sony, Citybank, Olivetti, and Siemens.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” wrote Albert Einstein. “Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

What’s in a Name?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Liver-Eating_Johnson.jpg

“Liver-Eating Johnson” had the coolest nickname in the Old West — cooler, perhaps, than the truth warranted.

The “mountain man” was actually born in New Jersey around 1824. He deserted the Navy after the Mexican-American War and lit out for Wyoming, where he trapped, hunted and supplied cordwood to steamboats.

The legend starts in 1847, when the Crow tribe killed his Indian wife and he launched a personal war that lasted 20 years, in which, supposedly, he would cut out and eat the liver of each man he killed.

Did he really? Who knows? But it made a good story, and Johnson’s stature began to grow — literally and figuratively. His Civil War records put him at less than 6 feet tall, but local yarns soon said he was 6 foot 6.

After serving the Union Army as a sharpshooter, he spent the 1880s as a deputy sheriff in Leadville, Colo., and a town marshal in Red Lodge, Mont. He died in 1900.

But a century later the nickname was still working. The 1972 Robert Redford film Jeremiah Johnson was based in part on his life — and Redford even served as one of the pallbearers when Johnson’s body was reburied in Cody, Wyo., in 1974.