Hiroo Onoda: The Japanese Soldier Who Fought World War II for 30 Years

You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts. If that’s the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you to give up your life voluntarily.

These are the orders that Hiroo Onoda, Japanese Army intelligence officer, received from his superior. He took this mission so seriously that he ended up still fighting decades after the war has ended.

hiroo onoda

Onoda had been sent to Lubang Island, Philippines in December of 1944 by his commanding officer to join an existing group of soldiers. A few months later, allied forces overtook the island, capturing or killing all Japanese forces but Onoda and three other Japanese soldiers.

The four ran into the heart of the forest and began a decades-long insurgency extending well past the end of the war. Several times they found or were handed leaflets telling them that the war had ended, but they refused to believe it.

In 1950, one of the soldiers turned himself in to Philippine authorities. By 1972, Onoda’s two other compatriots were killed during guerrilla confrontations, leaving Onoda alone.

In 1974, Onoda met Japanese Norio Suzuki who was traveling the world. Suzuki told the Japanese soldier that the war was over, but Onoda refused to believe it. He told the kid that he will not surrender until he received orders from a superior officer. Norio Suzuki promptly returned to Japan, located Onoda’s former commander (he was now an old man working in a bookstore), and the Japanese government flew him to the Philippines to tell Onoda that World War II had been over for 29 years.

In March of 1974, 29 years after World War II, Hiroo Onoda, walks out of the jungle of Lubang Island in the Philippines, where he was finally relieved of duty. He surrendered his sword (hanging from his hip in photo), his rifle, ammunition and several hand grenades.

Over the years, the small group had killed around 30 Filipinos in various attacks, but Onoda ended up free, after he received a pardon from then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.

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