You might have heard and read many interesting war stories, but no tale is as impressive as Hiroo Onoda’s. His story is about courage and dedication, as well as stubbornness. Onoda was a soldier of the Japanese Imperial army who kept fighting for three decades after the Second World War was over. He never surrendered because he was not convinced about the Japanese surrender. He kept fighting and killing Philippine people until his surrender in 1974.
Being a descendant of a Japanese warrior family, Onoda was always stubborn and non-compliant since childhood. His ancestors belonged to a Samurai clan, and his father was a sergeant who fought and died while fighting for Japan in second Sino-Japanese war. Onoda joined the army when he was 18, one year before Japan got into conflict with the United States due to pearl harbor. Onoda’s bloodline and family history compelled him to join the army as a commando. He specialized in guerrilla warfare, counterintelligence operations, propaganda and other unconventional war techniques.
In the battlefield
The Japanese army had taken control of the Philippines during WWII, but American forces were deployed in the Philippines, the Japanese army had to fall back due to heavy attacks. US forces pushed the Japanese back to the small islands. After ending his training, Onoda was sent to Lubang Island due to his superior and unique skills. His job was to use guerrilla warfare methods to diffuse the American attacks and hold off US and Philippines troops. Japanese guerrilla units had a unique strategy. They fought the allied forces until they were close to defeat. Seeing their impending collapse, they would hide in the forest to launch guerrilla attacks. This strategy did not work out for long.
Onoda’s war strategy
Onoda had different skillsets and plans, so he took three fellow soldiers and hid in the woods to wage a guerrilla war against the enemy. Hiroo and his mates kept fighting this guerrilla war for the next three decades. Unaware of the Japanese surrender in October 1945, they kept fighting the local farmers and even police. They survived on coconuts, cattle meat and rice, which they stole during raids on the nearby farms.
Efforts to persuade Onoda
Interestingly, the locals were aware of Onada’s unit hiding in the woods. Philippines and US forces knew that these guerrilla soldiers had no way of communicating with their command. They made several efforts to force them out of hiding. By the end of 1945, Americans airdropped pamphlets and leaflets, announcing the end of the war and the Japanese surrender. But Hiroo dismissed these calling it enemy’s propaganda. The airdrops continued until 1952 when Americans airdropped the family photos and letters from their relatives to urge them to come out of the hideout. Onoda thought that Japan was under US occupation and their families are doing this out of American fear.
The Lone Wolf
By 1949, Private Akatsu, one of Onoda’s men, realized that the war was over and walked away from his unit. His surrender to the Philippine Army in 1950 let the whole world know about his crew on Luband Island. After the submission of Akatsu, another soldier from his unit, Corporal Shimada also was killed by Philippine search party. Only two soldiers were left at this point, Onoda and Private Kozuka. They survived for two more decades until 1972 when Onoda’s companion Kozuka was killed by police when they were burning a rice silo in a nearby village. After that, Onoda lived alone for the next two years.
The interesting story of surrender
Norio Suzuki was a Japanese adventurer who used to travel the world. In 1974, Suzuki decided to see Onoda and arrived in the Philippines in February. He found Onoda in the woods of Lubang Island. He told Onoda that Japanese people and Emperor are worried about him, so Onoda should come out of the jungle. Onoda told Suzuki that he would not leave the Island unless he was relieved of his duty by his superior. Suzuki returned to Japan and explained Onoda’s condition to the Japanese government. The government tracked down Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, Onoda’s commanding officer, who had now become a bookseller. They flew him to Philippines to ask Onoda to surrender.
On March 9, 1974, Hiroo Onoda finally surrendered at the age of 52 and emerged from the jungle in his torn service uniform and rifle. His sword was still in excellent shape. He presented his sword to the president of the Philippines as surrender and was pardoned for his crimes.
Hero’s return to Japan
Upon returning to Japan, Onoda was greeted as the nation’s hero by the whole country. But Onoda was sad about the new Japan. He never accepted the fact that Japan surrendered to the Allied forces and was dissolved.
Onoda became active in politics and advocated for a war-like and full-of-pride Japan. In 1975, disappointed by Japan’s new condition, he moved to Brazil, where he got married and lived on a ranch raising cattle. Eventually, Onoda returned to Japan to create a nature camp for children of Japan. He lived his remaining life in Japan and died from heart failure on January 6, 2014, at the age of 91.
Hiroo Onada’s distinction
Interestingly, Hiroo Onoda was not the last Japanese soldier to stop fighting after WWII. That distinction belongs to Teruo Nakamura, another Japanese guerrilla fighter who lived in the jungles of Indonesia until 1974. But Onoda’s distinction was his dedication, loyalty, determination, pride and love for his country. All these values and qualities made him the most famous Japanese war hero.