The Japanese soldier who continued the WW II fight until 1974
Hiroo Onoda (March 19, 1922 – January 16, 2014) was a Japanese intelligence officer, stationed on Lubang Island in the Philippines, starting in December of 1944. He was part of a larger group of reconnaissance soldiers, which when whittled down in skirmishes over time after Allied forces landed on the island on February 28, 1945, left Lieutenant Onoda in charge of three remaining team members: Private Yūichi Akatsu, Private First Class Kinshichi Kozuka, and Corporal Shōichi Shimada. The four-man team retreated into the mountains to begin covert guerilla operations against the Allies.
The team’s original orders had been that they should destroy both the island’s airstrip and the harbor pier, as well as destroy any enemy encampments where possible. Onoda was also ordered to never surrender or to commit suicide. Without any connections to the outside world, the four men were isolated from the world, their Japanese Command, and they continued living out their wartime orders without fail.
Living in the jungle environment of Lubang, they built bamboo huts for shelter, stole food and livestock from surrounding villagers, dealt with mosquitoes and the heat, even while conducting skirmishes with anyone they found that looked like the enemy. When the war did end, they did not believe it, even when they found flyers showing that Japan had surrendered. For them, this was more Western propaganda that they would not trust.
In 1949, Akatsu left the other three men, spent six months alone, then walked out of the jungle, and surrendered to Filipino forces. Shimada was shot and killed in 1954 by a search party looking for them. Kozuka was shot and killed in 1972 by local police during a guerrilla burning raid on some farmers’ rice stocks. Onoda was then alone for another two years before a Japanese eccentric young explorer, Norio Suzuki, found him in the jungle. Suzuki could not convince Onoda that the war was over, so he took back pictures of himself and Onoda, including the information that Onoda would only surrender to his superior officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi.
After Major Taniguchi was found and notified of Onoda’s situation, he flew to Lubang in March of 1974, and officially accepted Onoda’s surrender that ended Onoda’s time of duty as a combatant with the Japanese army. He had spent most of his life still fighting in a war that ended some 29 years before. For the Japanese people, he was considered a hero because of his principles in refusing to give up on his orders, following them faithfully until the very end.