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The Story Of A Japanese Soldier Who Continued Fighting WWII For 29 Years Without Knowing It Was Over


Hiroo Onoda, a 22-year-old Japanese soldier, is pictured below.

When Hiroo Onoda was recruited to join the Japanese army at the age of 20, he immediately resigned from his employment and went to training.

He was chosen to join the Nakano school to be taught as an imperial army clever officer during his training. He was taught how to gather intelligence and conduct guerilla warfare at the Nakano school.

Onoda was transported to Lubang Island in the Philippines on December 26th, 1944, during World War II. Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, one of his superior officers, gave him straightforward orders:

Onoda then joined up with other Japanese soldiers already on the island, and on the 28th of February, 1945, the island was seized by allied forces.

Following the island’s conquest, the remaining Japanese troops were divided into tiny groups of three or four and sent into the bush.

The majority of these minor groupings were quickly eliminated. Onoda’s company, which included himself, Yuichi Akatsu, Siochi Shimada, and Kinshichi Kozuka, continued to combat the enemy troops as best they could in the forest, surviving on coconuts, bananas, and plundering local farms when they could.

They discovered a leaflet from one of the local islanders saying “The war is done, come down from the mountains” during a raid on a nearby farm for food in October 1945.

Onoda and his little army debated the leaflet, eventually concluding that it was Allied propaganda designed to persuade them to surrender. They believed that Japan could not have lost so soon because they were unaware of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

All of the townspeople’s efforts to persuade them that the conflict is over resulted in their going further into hiding. The townspeople continued to say that Japan had already lost the war, but they believed that if Japan had lost the war, their commander would come to fetch them, therefore the war must still be going on.

Delegates from Japan were transported into the jungle at one point, speaking over loudspeakers pleading with the men to surrender, but the soldiers had their doubts and believed it was an elaborate farce perpetrated by the Allied troops.

Years passed, and these four soldiers continued to carry out their sworn duty of pursuing the enemy at all times and gathering intelligence to the best of their abilities.

When they noticed that practically everyone they met was clothed in civilian clothing, they began to suspect that this, too, was a trick by the Allied forces to instill false confidence in the Japanese guerilla soldiers. They took into account the fact that every time they fired on these “civilians,” search groups would arrive shortly after.

Over time, their isolation had twisted their brains into believing that everyone was an enemy, including their own Japanese neighbors who would occasionally try to locate them and persuade them to return home. These, of course, were Japanese prisoners who had been compelled to come to lure them away from the jungle’s protection.

After roughly 5 years in the forest, Akatsu decided to surrender but kept the other three men in the dark. So, in 1949, he managed to elude the others and successfully surrender to what he mistook for Allied troops. As a result of this incident, Onoda and his troops were even more cautious, concealing deeper and taking fewer risks, as they saw Akatsu’s departure as a security danger. “What if he’s apprehended?” they wondered.

Shimada, another member of the tiny group, was killed in a skirmish on the beach at Gontin in 1955. Onoda and Kozuka were the only ones left.

For the next 17 years, the two lived in the bush, believing that Japan would ultimately transfer additional men, which they would then train in guerrilla warfare and use the intelligence they had obtained to regain the island. After all, their orders were to stay put and do whatever they could to stay alive until their commanding officer arrived to deliver them as promised.

Kozuka was slain in a confrontation with a Filipino patrol in October 1972, after 27 years in hiding. The Japanese had assumed they were dead for a long time, believing no one could have lasted so long in the bush. When Kozuka was slain and his body was transferred to Japan, they began to believe Onoda was still alive, despite the fact that he had been pronounced dead for a long time.

The Japanese then dispatched a search party into the woods to look for Onoda. Unfortunately, with 27 years of experience, he was far too excellent at hiding. They were unable to locate him. Onoda carried on with his mission.

Finally, in 1974, a college student named Nario Suzuki was roaming the bush when he discovered Onada’s home and Onada himself. Take a look at the photos they each captured after the jump.

During their conversation, Onada explained why he refuses to accept the battle is finished and the promise made to him by his commander.

Suzuki then returned to Japan with the news that Onoda had been found.

Major Taniguchi, now retired and working in a bookstore, was returned to the island and to Onoda to inform him that Japan had lost the war and that he needed to surrender his weapons to the Filipinos.

This was a heartbreaking time for Onada, not because they lost the war, but because he had squandered 29 years of his life doing what he believed was his duty to his country, the worst of which was the deaths of Shimada and Kozuka, as well as the deaths and injuries of innocent civilians.

On March 11th, 1974, Onoda, then 52 years old, marched out of the woods in full costume and handed over his samurai sword to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Given that Onoda had believed he was still at war the entire time, Marcos forgave him for his sins.

In their discussion, Onada told him why he has refused to believe the war was over and the promise his commander made to him.

When Onoda returned to Japan, he was greeted as a hero and paid his wages for the previous 30 years. Later, Onada would relocate to Brazil, where he will marry.

Onada returned to the Philippine island where he had lived for 30 years in May 1996 and donated $10,000 to local schools.

No Surrender, My Thirty-Year War is an autobiography written by Onoda.

Hiroo Onoda died of heart failure at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo on January 16, 2014, as a result of pneumonia complications.