Author(s): Charles Happell
Kokichi Nishimura was a member of the 2nd battalion, 144th Regiment of the Japanese Imperial Army. In 1942 he fought along every foot of Kokoda as the Japanese attempted to take Port Moresby. He was the only man from his company to survive the campaign. As he was evacuated to safety he made a promise that one day he would return to his comrades and bring them home to Japan for proper burial.After the war, Nishimura prospered. But under the surface, the driving ambition of his life was to fulfil his promise. In 1979, he shocked his family by returning to New Guinea to search for the remains of Japanese soldiers. For the next 25 years, Nishimura lived alone along the Kokoda Track. Armed only with a metal detector, a mattock and a shovel, he searched for his dead comrades. Over the years he found hundreds of them - some he was able to identify and return their bones to their families; others were unknown, and their remains were sent to Japan's official shrine for its war dead in Tokyo.In 2005 Nishimura, now in his mid-eighties and seriously ill, was forced to return to Japan. His story is an incredible adventure that gives us a radically different viewpoint on a battle that has become part of our national myth. Nishimura's life and quest above all offer a poignant reminder of the futility of war.