Hiroo Onoda Japanese Intelligence Officer Hid in jungle for decades
In 1944, Lt. Hiroo Onoda, An Imperial Japanese Army Officer was sent by the Japanese army to the remote Philippine island of Lubang. His mission was to conduct guerrilla warfare during World War II. Unfortunately, he was never officially told the war had ended; so for 29 years, Onoda continued to live in the jungle.
Caught in a time warp, Mr. Onoda, a second lieutenant, was one of the war’s last holdouts: a soldier who believed that the emperor was a deity and the war a sacred mission; who survived on bananas and coconuts and sometimes killed villagers he assumed were enemies; who finally went home to the lotus land of paper and wood which turned out to be a futuristic world of skyscrapers, television, jet planes and pollution and atomic destruction.
Japanese history and literature are replete with heroes who have remained loyal to a cause, especially if it is lost or hopeless, and Lieutenant Onoda, a small, wiry man of dignified manner and military bearing, seemed to many like a samurai of old.
Eventually the island was overrun by the Allies. The remaining Japanese soldiers, Onoda included, retreated into the inner regions of the island and split up into group’s .The groups would continue to conduct operations using guerrilla tactics.
The remaining soldiers split into cells of three and four people. There were four people in Onoda's cell: Corporal Shoichi Shimada (age 30), Private Kinshichi Kozuka (age 24), Private Yuichi Akatsu (age 22), and Lt. Hiroo Onoda (age 23).
Lieutenant Onoda, an intelligence officer trained in guerrilla tactics, and the three enlisted men with him found leaflets proclaiming the war’s end, but believed they were enemy propaganda. They built bamboo huts, pilfered rice and other food from a village and killed cows for meat; they were tormented by tropical heat, rats and mosquitoes, and they patched their uniforms and kept their rifles in working order.
Considering themselves to be at war, they evaded American and Filipino search parties and attacked islanders they took to be enemy guerrillas; about 30 inhabitants were killed in skirmishes with the Japanese over the years. One of the enlisted men surrendered to Filipino forces in 1950, and two others were shot dead, one in 1954 and another in 1972, by island police officers searching for the renegades.
In 1974, a Japanese man named Norio Suzuki decided to travel to the Philippines He told his friends that he was going to search for Lt. Onoda. He found him. Onoda explained that he would only surrender if his commander ordered him to do so.
Suzuki traveled back to Japan and found Onoda's former commander, Major Taniguchi. On March 9, 1974, Suzuki and Taniguchi met Onoda and Major Taniguchi read the orders that stated all combat activity was to be ceased. Onoda was shocked and, at first, disbelieving. "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?"
Hiro Onoda passed away on January, 16th 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. He was 94.
Source credit: NewYorkTimes.com