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.