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Hiroo Onoda, The Japanese WW ll Soldier who Refused to Surrender
How it all Started
Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese WW ll soldier, who refused to surrender and lived in the Philippine jungle for nearly 30 years in honour of the Imperial Army.
Onoda said that this obstinacy he had was apparent in his childhood, as when he was 6 years old he got into a fight with one of his friends and hurt him. His mother took him to the family shrine to commit hara-kiri, as she said the family could not tolerate that behavior and a thug should kill himself. However, the poor child could not cut open his stomach.
His mother gave him a dagger when he joined the army, in order that he may kill himself should he be captured. So in this light, it is perhaps easier to understand this man, honour bound and loyal to the Imperial Army of Japan, and refusing to leave his post until instructed to by his commander in person.
Hiroo Onoda was born on March 19, 1922 and at 20 years of age was called up to join the army. Once there he trained as an officer and then chosen for training in intelligence gathering and the methods of conducting guerrilla warfare in the Army intelligence school.
On December 17, 1944 Lieutenant Onoda left for Philippines to join the Sugi Brigade from Horosaki and embed covert operatives in the field to halt the Allies advance across the Pacific.
Here he was ordered to lead the Lubang Garrison in guerrilla warfare and to spy on the American army activity in Lubang, 90 miles south of Manila in the Philippines.
Although Allied forces defeated the Japanese there, shortly afterward, he and a three others, being Corporal Shoichi Shimada age 30, Private Kinshichi Kozuka, age 24, Private Yichi Akatsu age 22 and Lt.Hiroo Onoda now age 23, hid in the jungle evading capture and did not withdraw or surrender as did the majority of the Japanese troops.
Life in Jungle
All Japanese soldiers were trained to die rather than surrender. Onoda later recalled:
“Every Japanese soldier was prepared for death, but as an intelligence officer I was ordered to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die by my own hand. If I could not carry my order out, I would feel shame.”
During his time in the jungle, he kept an eye on military facilities on the island. However, he did not surrender in March 1945 when Allied forces took the Island, but survived by stealing rice, coconuts, and bananas from the villagers and shot their cows to make dried beef, which resulted in several skirmishes.
One of the men, Private First Class Yuichi Akatsu, stormed off in September 1949 and Akatsu managed to survive half a year before surrendering to the Philippine Army in 1950. Akatsu led a group of soldiers into the mountains in search of Onoda and the other two. Onoda assumed that Akatzu was now working with the enemy and retreated to the other side of the mountain.
Of the other two, one of the men, Shimada, died instantly from a shot fired by a search party sent in to find the soldiers on May 7, 1954.
Ten days later more leaflets were dropped, the loudspeaker saying telling them the war had ended. Another day Onoda’s own brother stood by the loudspeaker and pleaded for them to come forward. However, as they couldn’t see his face, they believed the Americans had sent an impostor.
In late 1965, Onoda and Kozuka ‘requisitioned’ a transistor radio from the islanders and listened to the news. Mentally they were still trapped in 1945 and did not believe what they hear regarding foreign relations yet understood that Japan had risen to be a great industrial power.
Only two Soldiers left in the Philippine Jungle
In an effort to continue with their military assignments, Onoda and Kozuka burnt piles of rice that was collected by the farmers. On October 19, 1972, they burnt on small rice pile before going on their way and the police reached their area and shot Kozuka twice.
More leaflets, magazines, and newspapers were dropped giving full descriptions of wonderful funeral and honours paid to Kozuka back in Japan – yet Onoda did not listen to their pleas, again felt that American propaganda was excellent.
The crosspoint came on February 20, 1974 when a young traveller Norio Suzuki arrived in Lubang in search of the veteran soldier. Mr Suzuki pitched camp in the jungle clearing and waited – Mr. Onoda eventually made contact and they began to talk, Onoda told him he was waiting for orders from one of his commanders.
On returning to Japan, Suzuki advised government, which called in thesoldier’s superior, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi to bring about his surrender.
On March 9, 1974 Suzuki and Major Taniguchi met Onoda at a pre-appointed place and the Major read the orders that stated all combat activity was to cease. Onoda was shocked at first and it took some time for the news to penetrate his long held beliefs in Imperial Japan.
Hiroo Onoda later wrote the following on receiving orders to cease action.
“We really lost the war! How could they have been so sloppy?
Suddenly everything went black. A storm raged inside me. I felt like a fool for having been so tense and cautious on the way here. Worse than that, what had I been doing for all these years?
Gradually the storm subsided, and for the first time I really understood: my thirty years as a guerrilla fighter for the Japanese army were abruptly finished. This was the end.
I pulled back the bolt on my rifle and unloaded the bullets. . . .
I eased off the pack that I always carried with me and laid the gun on top of it.
Would I really have no more use for this rifle that I had polished and cared for like a baby all these years? Or Kozuka's rifle, which I had hidden in a crevice in the rocks?
Had the war really ended thirty years ago?
If it had, what had Shimada and Kozuka died for?
If what was happening was true, wouldn't it have been better if I had died with them?”
Finally leaving the Jungle after 3 Decades
Despite four attempts by his family and numerous pamphlet drops he continued to believe that hostilities continued until 1974 and that as promised, his commander would come back for him. Onoda later said the pamphlets were full of mistakes so he assumed it was an American ploy and ignored them.
He came out of the jungle at 52 years old, emaciated but walking. He was hailed a hero in his homeland, the Philippine government pardoned him, although he was said to have killed some 30 people while evading capture and wounding many more.
Dressed in his much patched, 30 year old uniform, Hiroo Onoda offered his samurai sword to former Philippine President Marcos, at the Malacanan Palace in Manila, to express his surrender. President Marcos returned his sword to him.
He was a national hero when he arrived Tokyo and was met by his aging parents and huge flag-waving crowds. He spoke of duty and personified devotion to traditional values that many Japanese thought had long been lost.
In an editorial, a leading Tokyo newspaper said:
"To this soldier, duty took precedence over personal sentiments. Onoda has shown us that there is much more in life than just material affluence and selfish pursuits.. There is the spiritual aspect, something we may have forgotten.”
Life after War, and the Death of the last Samurai like Warrior
He received some back pay, a military pension and signed a $160 000 contract for his memoir, “No Surrender: My Thirty Year War,” to be written by a ghostwriter.
You can imagine, that Onoda felt like a stranger in a strange land, overwhelmed by the changes, the tall building, motor vehicles, television and the materialism. Remember before the war, the Imperial family were revered and were the foundation of the state. All aspects of life were suffused with consciousness of the national identity, and later society shifted toward the right.
So in 1975, he moved to a Japanese colony in Sao Paulo where he raised cattle along with his wife, a teacher of tea ceremonies, whom he met there.
They returned to Japan in 1984, and after hearing about a youth who had murdered his parents, he founded Onoda Nature School youth camps. He also revisited Lubang in the Philippines in 1996 and donated $10 000 to a school there.
On January 16, 2014, at 91, the last Japanese imperial soldier to emerge from hiding died of heart failure and pneumonia in St. Luke’s a Tokyo hospital.