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Japan Checking if 2 Men in Philippines are World War II Soldiers

Japan is trying to determine if two elderly men in the southern Philippines are Japanese soldiers from World War II. Japanese officials there say they are to meet with the two men Friday at a hotel on the island of Mindanao to try to confirm their identities.

Tsuzuki Nakauchi in an undated photo
Japanese media are reporting the two men contacted a Japanese, who was searching for remains of Imperial Army soldiers in a remote mountainous region near the town of General Santos.

Japanese government officials say the two are believed to be 87-year-old Yoshio Yamakawa and 85-year-old Tsuzuki Nakauchi.

There had been previous unconfirmed reports in the same region of sightings of Japanese soldiers continuing to hide, but Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told reporters Friday that this case appears to be authentic.

Mr. Machimura says it is premature to talk about the two former soldiers returning to Japan - he says that is something that will be up to the two elderly men.

Records show that the two were soldiers in the 30th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army, which was disbanded in 1945 when Japan surrendered.

Officials say they are checking documents the men have in their possession to confirm their identities.

Japanese news media report the men stayed hidden for 60 years, because they feared being court-martialed for having gotten separated from their division.

In 1974, on Lubang Island in the Philippines, Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was discovered, and returned home to a hero's welcome, 15 years after he had been declared legally dead. He said he held out because he did not believe the war was over, and was awaiting orders from his commander.

The Japanese military attacked the Philippines, then a U.S. colony, on December 8, 1941. U.S. and Philippine forces were crushed, and the Japanese controlled most of the island chain until early 1945, when American troops and Filipino resistance fighters retook the capital, Manila. Sporadic fighting, however, continued in many parts of the country's jungle-covered and mountainous terrain, until the Japanese signed surrender documents in September 1945, ending the Pacific War.