World War II was a devastating time in world history—so devastating that the death toll is estimated to have reached 50 million to 80 million fatalities. Although the 6-year war was brought to its final point in 1945, it wasn’t over for intelligence officer, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda who continued to carry out his superior’s orders until 1975.
After graduating in 1939, Onoda immediately worked for a Shanghai-based Japanese trading company but was short-lived as he was drafted into a military academy in the months that followed.
The then 22-year old Lieutenant was deployed in 1944 to Lubang, a small yet strategic island in the Philippines where he was ordered to spy on American troops and disrupt the coming of American invasion by sabotaging harbor installations and an airstrip. And so he did.
In February 1945, the US troops landed on Lubang, followed by the surrender of most Japanese soldiers; however, hundreds stayed missing for years after the war, including Hiroo Onoda who went into hiding along with three other companions.
Despite the launching of search parties, and the Japanese dropping leaflets urging him to surrender, Onoda, and his comrades continued to carry out what they thought, was still their mission. They continued eluding search parties while ignoring leaflets calling for their surrender.
In his interview with ABC, Onada shared the reason why he did not respond to these efforts, “The leaflets contained had a lot of mistakes so we assumed it was a ploy by the Americans.”
To remain alive, they built bamboo huts and lived off on bananas, milk, and stolen cattle. Aside from enduring the tropical heat, Onoda and his comrades were pestered by rats and mosquitoes. Despite living below normal conditions, Onoda said they maintained their rifles in working order.
As Onoda remained in hiding, His party attacked island settlers and fought back with the local police. One of his companions surrendered to Filipino authorities in 1950 while two others were shot dead in 1954 and in 1972 during police encounters.
Hiroo Onoda was the only man left standing, but due to Japan not knowing a lot about his whereabouts, he was officially declared him dead in 1959.
This assumption justified the reason why Onoda was missing for more than 10 years, but Norio Suzuki, a young traveler, believed that Onoda was still alive somewhere. So in 1974, Suzuki set out for Lubang in the hopes of finding Onoda and bringing him home. Suzuki’s gut was right, Onoda was still alive. The youth tried convincing 54-year old Onoda to return to Japan with him; however, the loyal soldier insisted that he was still waiting for his superior’s orders.
Determined to return Onoda to Japan, Norio Suzuki presented Hiroo Onoda’s photographs to the Japanese government who in turn sent Onada’s brother and his former commander, Yoshimi Taniguchi to the Philippines. When Taniguchi officially relieved Onoda of his duty, the scruffy soldier saluted and wept.
Hiroo Onoda eventually returned to Japan, and attempted to live a normal life; however, he felt like he did not belong. So, he migrated to Brazil and set up a cattle ranch and an education camp for the youth.
The former Japanese lieutenant died in January 2014 at the age of 91.