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1970s / 1974 - Japanese WWII Soldier Finally Surrenders
Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier, refused to believe the Second World War had ended--and continued his mission of clandestine sabotage for twenty-nine years. On December 26, 1944, Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines. His orders were to hamper enemy activity on the island, including destroying the airstrip and the pier at the harbor. Onoda's orders also stated that under no circumstances was he to surrender or take his own life. When he landed on the island, Onoda joined forces with other Japanese soldiers. The officers in the group all outranked Onoda, which prevented him from carrying out his assignment. United States and Filipino forces retook Luband Island when they landed on February 28, 1945. Within a short time, all but Onoda and three other soldiers had either died or surrendered. Onoda, who had been promoted to lieutenant, ordered the men to take to the hills. Onoda continued his campaign as a Japanese holdout, initially living in the mountains with three fellow soldiers (Akatsu, Shimada and Kozuka). Although hostilities ceased in August 1945, Onoda and his comrades were oblivious to Japan's unconditional surrender. Thus the foursome carried out guerrilla activities, killed some 30 Filipino citizens, and engaged in several shootouts with the police for years. As early as 1945 Onoda saw a leaflet saying the war had ended, but he and his comrades thought it was enemy propaganda. They continued their bloody raids against local farmers and police. Even leaflets from General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army failed to convince the maverick soldiers to capitulate. One of the four, Yuichi Akatsu, walked away from the others in September 1949 and surrendered to Filipino forces in 1950 after six months on his own. In 1952 letters and family pictures were dropped from aircraft urging the remaining three to surrender, but they concluded it too was a ruse. Shimada was shot in the leg during a gun battle with local fishermen in June 1953. Onoda nursed him back to health. On May 7, 1954, Shimada was killed by a shot fired by a search party. Kozuka was killed by two shots fired by local police on October 19, 1972, leaving Onoda alone. He and Onoda were burning local farmers' rice harvest as part of their guerrilla activities. On February 20, 1974, Onoda met a young Japanese man, Norio Suzuki, who was on a personal quest to find him. Onoda described this moment in a 2010 interview: "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 and Suzuki became friends, but Onoda still refused to surrender, saying that he was waiting for orders from a superior officer. Suzuki returned to Japan with photographs of himself and Onoda as proof of their encounter. The Japanese government located Onoda's commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had become a bookseller in civilian life. On March 9, 1974, Taniguchi met with Onoda and persuaded him to surrender. Onoda turned over his sword, his rifle (still in working order), 500 rounds of ammunition, and several hand grenades, as well as a dagger his mother had given him in 1944. Though he had killed numerous civilians since the war's end, Onoda received a pardon from Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos. Upon his return to Japan, Onoda was uncomfortable with his celebrity status and the erosion of traditional Japanese values. Onoda moved to Brazil where he became a successful cattle rancher. He occasionally returned to Japan to promote conservative causes, including organizing educational camps for wayward Japanese youths. As of December 2013, Onoda was still alive at age 91.