The death of a man I thought couldn’t die


Hiroo Onoda has passed.

A Japanese soldier who refused to surrender after World War Two ended and spent 29 years in the jungle has died aged 91 in Tokyo.

Hiroo Onoda remained in the jungle on Lubang Island near Luzon, in the Philippines, until 1974 because he did not believe that the war had ended.

He was finally persuaded to emerge after his ageing former commanding officer was flown in to see him.

Correspondents say he was greeted as a hero on his return to Japan.

As WW2 neared its end, Mr Onoda, then a lieutenant, became cut off on Lubang as US troops came north.

The young soldier had orders not to surrender – a command he obeyed for nearly three decades.

I have been fascinated by Hiroo for years. He is the ultimate survival, evasion, resistance and escape master. He didn’t just refuse to surrender, he fought on. Hiroo didn’t go to ground and escape and evade, he pressed the attack for almost 30 years. Filipino defense forces and police pursued him but Hiroo eluded them while waging war against them in a manner that made John Rambo look like a pussy.

He wasn’t alone for most of the years after the war. His brothers in arms, were killed, captured or they surrendered one-by-one until he was the last. He held out until a young Japanese journalist tracked him down, avoided tasting Hiroo’s bayonet and convinced him the war was over. Even then, Hiroo wouldn’t surrender until is wartime commander traveled from Japan and relived him of duty.

This man was a warrior’s warrior.

There are aspects of Hiroo’s personality that I find a little disturbing, however. Over the years, he managed to capture newspapers and radios. He read and heard the news and convinced himself it was all propaganda. When he read about trade between the US and Japan, he decided that the two countries must have found a way to simultaneously fight a war and engage in trade. When the government of Japan sent a relative to call out to him with a bullhorn and to tell him the war was over and he should surrender, Hiroo thought, “The Americans did an amazing job getting someone who looks and sounds so much like my family member to to trick me into surrendering” His ability to rationalize was amazing.

So, how to feel about Hiroo? Is he a hero warrior who would never give up, never surrender and never dishonor himself? Or was he a man who was able to rationalize delusion to the point of absurdity? I think both. In fact, I think each attribute is dependent on the other.

Whatever the case, Hiroo Onada is a character from history worthy of study and respect.

Go easy into the next realm, Lieutenant Onoda.

Hiroo’s autobiography can be had here. I highly recommend it.


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6 Responses to The death of a man I thought couldn’t die

  1. Bill says:

    I own and have read the book. He was a fascinating guy. I remember him saying that he felt like an outsider when he returned home to Japan and that was why he moved to Brazil. I was a bit surprised to see he died in Tokyo.
    The thing that was most striking about him was he didn’t see all those years as lost. I vaguely remember one of his fellow soldiers expressing regret as to how long the war lasted, and this was maybe 10 years after the war ended.

  2. R.D. Walker says:

    Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi lasted longer on Guam, but he never fought. He just laid low in a dugout cave. Still impressive survival skills. Yokoi was no warrior like Onoda.

  3. Ray Davies says:

    Rest in Peace Lt. Hiroo Onoda. You deserve it, and may the God of your faith smile upon you and tell you “Well Done, you were Honorable”

  4. James says:

    Most wars only last a few years. Anyone with a rational mind would realize the burn rate of weapons and men could not be sustained for decades.

  5. MadBrad says:

    At the time that we dropped the Atomic Bombs on Japan we had only destroyed one sixth of the Japanese Army. Imagine having to invade a homeland defended by guys like Onoda. For anyone who questions the morality of dropping those Bombs, they should read Never Surrender and take some quiet time to reconsider their position.

    RD sent me a copy several years ago. I love that book. I’ve read it more than once. Until you read it you might think that Onoda was just another fanatical Japanese Soldier. That was not true. He was a party boy, ladies man and somewhat of a slacker until he joined the Army. Then the code of Honor he embraced was all about following Orders, regardless of what they were. The reason he continued his Mission was because he was ordered to. The only reason he ended the Mission is because he was ordered to.

    Say what you want but he was an honorable man. He was the ultimate Soldier. I’m just getting home from an invitation to enjoy some Sushi and Sashimi with a young lady who is just beginning to know this man we all know as Sweet Daddy and can’t seem to get enough of him. We repeatedly toasted Lieutenant Onoda with much Sake.

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