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Last surviving former Imperial Japanese Army soldier who returned from Peleliu dies at 98

Keiji Nagai speaks to the Mainichi Shimbun about his harrowing wartime experiences on Aug. 6, 2018 in the Ibaraki Prefecture town of Ibaraki. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

MITO -- Former Imperial Japanese Army soldier Keiji Nagai, who was one of 34 soldiers to return from the Pacific War battlefield of Palau, where some 10,000 Japanese soldiers perished, died from colorectal cancer Nov. 4 at a hospital in Ibaraki Prefecture northeast of Tokyo. He was 98.

He had put in most of his efforts in recent years to sharing his wartime experiences with various audiences.

Originally from the Ibaraki Prefecture city of Kasama, Nagai enlisted in the army at age 18, and was based as a foot soldier in Mito. After being assigned to border patrol in what was then known as Manchuria (present-day Northeast China), he was dispatched to Peleliu Island, Palau, where he fought on the frontlines to protect the airport there from the U.S. military.

The U.S. military, which was aiming to recapture the Philippines, began landing on Peleliu Island in September 1944. Japanese soldiers resisted by holing up in caves, but after approximately two months of fighting, the Japanese military had been defeated. Nagai and others who stayed in caves without knowing that the war had ended returned to Japan in May 1947, nearly two whole years after the end of the war.

Last year, Nagai told the Mainichi Shimbun about his harrowing experiences on the island. Showered with bullets by the U.S. military, Nagai said he could see nothing due to the dust that the bullets had kicked up from the ground, but heard screams of "Long live the Emperor!" He was also injured when a bomb fragment penetrated his right thigh and he witnessed other soldiers being burned alive with flamethrowers.

According to family members, Nagai had undergone surgery for colorectal cancer in May of last year. In May of this year, however, doctors discovered that the cancer had metastasized to his liver and elsewhere. Nagai was hospitalized in the Ibaraki Prefecture town of Ibaraki when he fell ill in late October, and passed away on the morning of Nov. 4.

(Japanese original by Ken Kawasaki, Mito Bureau)

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