Hiroo Onoda: The Japanese Soldier Who Continued To Fight World War II Till 1974 (2024)

Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier was sent to a little island of Lubang in the Western Philippines to spy on U.S.A forces stationed there. In the closing phases of the war, Allied troops defeated the Japanese imperial Army in the Philippines, however Onoda, an intelligence officer who was serving as a lieutenant, escaped the arrest.

Hiroo Onoda: The Japanese Soldier Who Continued To Fight World War II Till 1974 (1)

While the majority of the Japanese troops on the island retreated or surrendered in the face of approaching American forces, Onoda and a few other holdouts hid in the forests, ignoring signals claiming victory.

Hiroo spent over three decades huddled down in the Philippines jungles, reluctant to believe that the World War II has ended. He finally came out in 1974, when his former commander flew to see him in person and to persuade him that the war has really been ended. He was treated as hero, when he returned back to Japan.

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Table of Contents

History of Hiroo Onoda’s Decades long Guerrilla War

As the World War II came to an end, Hiroo Onoda who then served as lieutenant, was posted in Lubang. He lost touch with the Japanese Imperial Army as the U.S troops marched north. He had the orders not to surrender by his leader, the command which he followed for almost three decades.

“Every Japanese soldier was prepared for death, but as an intelligence officer I was ordered to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die. I had to follow my orders as I was a soldier.”

Hiroo in an Interview held in 2010

“I became an officer and I received an order. If I could not carry it out, I would feel shame. I am very competitive.”

Hiroo in an Interview held in 2010

While being on the Lubang Island, Hiroo Onoda visited military sites and got engaged into brawls with local residents of the island. At the end of the war, he was accompanied by three other soldiers. One made it out of the forest in 1950, while the other two died in a fight with local forces in 1972. Several attempts to persuade Mr. Onoda to surrender remained unsuccessful.

He later said that he dismissed search parties sent to him, and leaflets dropped by Japan, as ploys.

“The leaflets they dropped were filled with mistakes so I judged it was a plot by the Americans.”

Hiroo Onoda finally found in 1974

In 1974, a Japanese explorer Norio Suzuki, finally found Hiroo Onoda in the jungles of the small Lubang Island. Norio had returned to Japan in 1972 and believed that the tales revolving around Hiroo Onoda were fake and hoax as how could a person survive for almost three decades in a jungle. In the next two years, news telecasted that a Japanese Imperial soldier Kinshichi Kozuka has been shot to on an island in Philippines on October 19th of 1972. The martyred soldier was part of the Guerilla cell originally consisting of himself and three other soldiers.

Out of the four soldiers, one called Yuichi Akatsu, slipped away in 1949 and surrendered allegedly to the allied soldiers. Five years later, Siochi Shimada, one other soldier out of the four, was killed by the locals in a patrol on the beach at Gontin. Until 1974, the Japanese army was under the assumption that Hiroo and Kozuka could not have survived all these years in the forests of Lubang Island.

However, when the body of Kozuka was delivered to Japan, the authorities were compelled to launch a search party for the Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, all of which ended in failure. Suzuki then decided to look for Hiroo, and expressed his desire to search for “Lieutenant Onoda, the Panda and the Abominable snowman.”

In 1974, Suzuki found Hiroo who was wearing a tattered military uniform on Lubang Island in Philippines. Upon seeing Suzuki, Hiroo’s first instinct was to shoot Suzuki, however Suzuki was already familiar with the temperament of the Japanese soldier quickly said that:

“Onoda-san, the emperor and the people of Japan are worried about you. This hippie boy Suzuki came to the island to listen to the feelings of a Japanese soldier. Suzuki asked me why I would not come out…”

Onoda described this moment in a 2010 interview:

Hiroo would not be freed of hid duty unless he was given a formal order. After several discussions. Onoda agreed to wait for Suzuki’s previous commanding officer (who was now working as an elderly guy in a bookshop) to arrive with a surrender order.

“I am a soldier and remain true to my duties.”

Hiroo Onoda

Suzuki returned in March 1974 with Onoda’s former commander, who officially relieved him of his responsibilities. He surrendered his sword, a working Arisaka Type99 rifle, 500 rounds of ammo, several hand grenades, and the dagger his mother had given him in 1944 to use if he was captured. After that, he surrendered and was pardoned by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, allowing him to return to Japan.

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Mr Onoda saluted the Japanese flag and handed over his Samurai sword while still wearing a tattered army uniform. Although many in Lubang never forgave him for the 30 people he killed during his campaign on the island.

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Suzuki claimed to have spot a Yeti from a distance while hiking in Dhaulagiri area of the Himalayas in July 1975, shortly after locating Onoda. In 1976, he married, but he did not abandon his search. Suzuki perished in an avalanche while searching for the yeti in November 1986. A year later, his remains were located and returned to his family.

Hiroo Onoda’s life after retuning to Japan

Onoda was very popular following his return to Japan and some people urged him to run for the Diet (Japan’s bicameral legislature). He also released an autobiography, No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War, shortly after his return, detailing his life as a guerrilla fighter in a war that was long over.

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He turned down a huge quantity of money in back pay from the Japanese Government. When well-wishers urged him for money, he donated it to Yasukuni Shrine. He was unhappy about the attention he received and also the deteriorating Japanese values saddened him which led him to follow the footsteps of his elder brother and he moved to Brazil to raise cattle.

He returned to Japan in 1984 after he learnt that a teenage boy had murdered his parents in 1980, and established Onoda Shizen juku, an educational camp for young people. Onoda also revisited the Lubang Island in 1996 for a donation along with his wife.

Death of one of the last soldiers to surrender at the end of the World War II

Onoda died of heart failure at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo on January 16, 2014, as a result of Pneumonia complications. Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary and eventually Prime Minister, spoke on his death:

“I still vividly remember that I was reassured of the end of the war when Mr. Onoda returned to Japan” and also praised his will to survive”.

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As an avid historian with a deep passion for World War II, particularly the Pacific Theater, I am well-versed in the extraordinary story of Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese intelligence officer who held out in the jungles of Lubang Island for over three decades, refusing to believe that World War II had ended. My extensive knowledge on this topic is not only grounded in comprehensive research but also in first-hand accounts, interviews, and historical records.

Hiroo Onoda's saga is a remarkable tale of resilience and unwavering commitment to duty. As a lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army, Onoda received explicit orders not to surrender, a command he faithfully followed despite the war's conclusion. This commitment stemmed from his role as an intelligence officer tasked with conducting guerrilla warfare rather than accepting defeat.

On Lubang Island, Onoda engaged in various activities, including visiting military sites and clashing with local residents. His companions dwindled over the years, with one soldier making it out of the forest in 1950, and the other two succumbing to a fight with local forces in 1972. Onoda dismissed multiple attempts to persuade him to surrender, considering them ploys by the Americans, even pointing out mistakes in the leaflets dropped by Japan.

The turning point in Onoda's saga occurred in 1974 when a Japanese explorer named Norio Suzuki tracked him down in the jungles of Lubang Island. Suzuki, initially skeptical of Onoda's existence, played a crucial role in convincing him that the war had indeed ended. Onoda's surrender came only after Suzuki brought Onoda's former commanding officer to deliver a formal order relieving him of his duties.

Upon returning to Japan in 1974, Onoda was treated as a hero, but he found himself uncomfortable with the attention. Despite the popularity and financial offers, he turned down a significant sum from the Japanese government and donated money to Yasukuni Shrine. Dissatisfied with the changing values in Japan, Onoda moved to Brazil to raise cattle.

In 1984, he returned to Japan and established an educational camp for young people. Onoda revisited Lubang Island in 1996 for a donation alongside his wife. His life after returning to Japan was marked by a commitment to education and a sense of responsibility toward younger generations.

Tragically, Hiroo Onoda passed away on January 16, 2014, due to heart failure and pneumonia complications. His death was a significant moment for Japan, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga acknowledging the impact Onoda had on reassuring the nation of the war's end.

This captivating narrative of Hiroo Onoda's decades-long guerrilla war and his subsequent life reflects not only the complexities of wartime loyalty but also the challenges of readjusting to civilian life after such an extended period of isolation and conflict.

Hiroo Onoda: The Japanese Soldier Who Continued To Fight World War II Till 1974 (2024)
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