“Gold meddle” (Yamashita’s treasure)


I have taken a few trips to the Philippines and will probably get back some day. If so, I could embark on a quest to find tunnels bored into green mountains, which lead to rolling hills of gold bullion. This collection, large enough to make every Moline resident a millionaire, is dubbed Yamashita’s Gold and has eluded all treasure seekers, government expeditions, and history buffs.

Legend tells that during World War II, Japan looted as much gold as it could plunder, melted it, and used captured Filipinos to bury it. Finally, the invaders sealed the victims and the booty. Many legends contain a harrowing aspect, even if the overarching idea – in this case a fortune waiting to be found – is an attractive one.

The Japanese looters planned to return for the riches when the fighting ended.  When they were defeated, they lost the gold as well, and there it still sits, awaiting discovery by a Scrooge McDuck.

All this is a greatly-condensed version of Sterling and Peggy Seagrave’s book, The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan’s Imperial Family. A sequel, Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold, whose title acts as a spoiler, details how we Yanks got that treasure, plus some Nazi loot, and kept both in a slush find to fight them no-good Commies. We won the Cold War, so I guess it worked.

A counter claim has been made by treasure hunter Charles McDougald, who reported that he and fellow hunter Robert Curtis went looking for Yamashita’s Gold, with the blessing and funding of Filipino strongman Ferdinand Marcos. They claimed to have found the stunning stash, yet produced no gold nor even a photo of such. After a second expedition failed to yield even a claim they had found it, the duo were booted from the country. They claimed this only happened since they were so close to finding it and Marcos wanted it all to himself. 

In such a scenario, the dictator would, of course, swooped it up, bought his wife 10,000 more pairs of shoes, and further funded the elimination of his enemies. Yet, Curtis and McDougald inadvertently revealed that they didn’t actually believe Marcos was about to horde it when the accepted Corazón Aquino’s offer to resume the search following the 1986 revolution. This expedition managed only to damage landmarks and spur accusations about booby traps preventing the find. Following repeated failures, the two were banished from the country a second time.

Yet another claim came from Rogelio Roxas, who filed suit against the Marcoses for the treasure’s value. Roxas claimed he used a map given to him by the son of a Japanese soldier to find Yamashita’s Gold and a golden Buddha. The discovery included seeing the corpses of the victims who were buried along with it.

Roxas insisted he and his compatriots tried to sell the Buddha to finance removal of the rest of the treasure, whereupon Marcos had expedition members tortured until they revealed the location.

While there are various claims about the gold, they have the commonality of having produced none of the treasure.

And while Japan was in control of the Philippines for about three years, it had no intention of making it a colony and, in fact, knew it could not hold the country forever. It would have been a terrible location to bury treasure.

The, cough-cough, History Channel claims the Japanese carved symbols on rock faces leading to the locations of all the treasure tunnels. Yet neither History Channel producers nor anyone else has been able to follow these glaring clues to the stash.

It’s true the Japanese government and military seized valuables and raided the treasuries of invaded nations. But the resulting bounty went to the war effort, not to the planning of the granddaddy of all scavenger hunts.

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