How did Hiroo Onoda survive for 30 years without surrendering after the end of WWII?

Hiroo Onoda was a Japanese intelligence officer in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. He became famous for continuing to fight World War II into the 1970s, unaware that the war had ended.

Hiroo Onoda’s tale is a striking example of a soldier’s unwavering dedication to duty. While his actions during his years in hiding might be controversial, his resolve and perseverance have turned his story into one of the most astonishing anecdotes of World War II. In a rapidly changing world, his story reminds us of the power of conviction and the importance of timely communication. Image: Hiroo Onoda

Here’s a detailed overview of his life and the significant events associated with him:

Early Life

Hiroo Onoda was born on March 19, 1922, in Kainan, Wakayama, Japan. As a young man, he worked for a trading company in Wuhan, China. However, when World War II intensified, he returned to Japan and joined the army in 1942.

Training and Deployment

In 1944, Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines. Before his departure, he received rigorous training in the Japanese military’s Futamata Intelligence School. The training was so specialized that Onoda was imparted skills to be self-reliant and was trained to resist the enemy at all costs. His primary duty on Lubang Island was to hamper enemy attacks on the island, which included destroying the airstrip and the pier at the harbor.

Hiroo Onoda and his younger brother Shigeo Onoda.

End of World War II

When World War II concluded in 1945 and Imperial Japan had surrendered, Onoda was on Lubang Island with three other soldiers. While the war was over, they were unconvinced by the leaflets and other communication they came across, suggesting that Japan had surrendered. They believed them to be Allied propaganda or tricks designed to make them give up their positions.

Japan surrendered in World War II on August 15, 1945, following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9. This day is known as “V-J Day” (Victory over Japan Day). The formal signing of the instrument of surrender took place on September 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay. This official ceremony marked the end of World War II. Image: Japanese foreign affairs minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Japanese Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri as American General Richard K. Sutherland watches, 2 September 1945.

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Life in Hiding

For the next 29 years, Onoda and his comrades lived in the mountains, surviving on a diet of rice, coconuts, and meat from stolen cattle.

Over the years, various skirmishes occurred between the locals and Onoda’s group, which resulted in some civilian casualties. The outside world believed them to be dead, and they became known as “holdouts.”

The soldiers with Onoda gradually left or died, leaving him alone by 1972. Onoda continued his mission single-handedly, still believing that the war was ongoing. He meticulously took notes of his daily activities and observations, preparing for the time when he would have to report back to his superiors.

Discovery and Return

In 1974, Onoda was discovered by Norio Suzuki, a Japanese adventurer who had heard about the tale of the soldier who refused to surrender. Suzuki ventured into the jungles of Lubang and, after several days, found Onoda. However, even after meeting Suzuki, Onoda refused to surrender unless he received orders directly from his former commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi.

Taniguchi, who had long since retired and become a bookseller, was located and flown to Lubang. On March 9, 1974, in an emotionally charged event, Taniguchi fulfilled Onoda’s wish, reading out the orders that declared all combat activity was to cease. Onoda, still in his tattered uniform, saluted the Japanese flag and handed over his sword, signaling his official surrender.

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Life After His Surrender

On returning to Japan, Onoda was hailed as a hero. He was a living example of the Japanese principle of ‘Yamato-damashii,’ which represents the indomitable Japanese spirit.

However, the Japan he returned to was drastically different from the one he remembered. He had missed out on the post-war economic boom, the cultural revolution, and the entire transition of Japan into a pacifist nation.

Onoda soon found it challenging to adjust to the new Japan. In 1975, he relocated to Brazil, where he became a farmer. But by 1984, he was back in Japan, establishing a nature camp for kids to teach survival techniques.

How did Hiroo Onoda survive nearly 30 years without surrendering?

Onoda and his comrades survived by hunting, farming, and occasionally raiding local villages for food, clothing, and other essentials. Hiroo Onoda’s story is a testament to human endurance, the consequences of misinformation, and the embodiment of a soldier’s dedication to duty. While controversial, his tale has become an iconic anecdote in the annals of wartime history. Image: Hiroo Onoda’s surrender in the Philippines in 1974

Hiroo Onoda’s survival for nearly 30 years in the jungles of Lubang Island, Philippines, without surrendering is a testament to his military training, resourcefulness, determination, and unwavering belief in his mission. Here’s how he managed to endure for such an extended period:

  1. Military Training: Onoda was trained as an intelligence officer in the Imperial Japanese Army. His training included guerrilla warfare tactics, which taught him how to live off the land, conduct espionage, and evade the enemy.
  2. Living Off the Land: Onoda and his comrades hunted wild game, fished, and foraged for fruits and vegetables. They also cultivated small patches of land to grow crops such as bananas.
  3. Raiding Local Villages: Occasionally, when supplies ran low or when they needed specific items, Onoda and his men would raid nearby villages. They took rice, salt, and clothing, among other essentials.
  4. Shelter: Onoda and his team built hidden huts deep in the jungle, ensuring they were concealed from aerial and ground searches. These huts provided protection from the elements.
  5. Comrades: Initially, Onoda was not alone. Three other soldiers were with him: Private Yūichi Akatsu, Corporal Shōichi Shimada, and Private First Class Kinshichi Kozuka. Having companions helped them maintain morale and share duties. Over time, however, Akatsu surrendered in 1950, Shimada was killed in a shootout with local forces in 1954, and Kozuka was killed in 1972.
  6. Belief in the Mission: Onoda was ordered not to surrender or take his own life. This order and his strong belief that the war was still ongoing kept him going. He believed that the leaflets dropped by planes and the loudspeaker announcements made to convince them to surrender were Allied propaganda or tests of their resolve.
  7. Avoiding Confrontation: Onoda and his group tried to avoid direct confrontations with local police and Filipino troops. They often moved locations and remained hidden to ensure they weren’t detected or captured.
  8. Staying Updated: Despite being in hiding, Onoda kept updated on the outside world. He and his comrades occasionally listened to a shortwave radio, though they believed that most of the news they heard about Japan’s defeat and the end of the war was propaganda.
  9. Physical and Mental Fitness: Onoda maintained his physical fitness through regular exercises, chores, and the daily activities of survival. Mentally, his steadfast belief in his mission and his discipline, instilled through military training, kept him going.

Who was Hiroo Onoda’s wife?

Hiroo Onoda’s wife was named Machie Onoda. After he returned from his extended stay in the Philippines, having not surrendered until 1974, he met and married Machie in Japan. The couple later moved to Brazil before returning to Japan again. Machie played a significant role in helping Hiroo readjust to post-war life and transition back into Japanese society.

Critics of Hiroo Onoda

Hiroo Onoda’s tale of loyalty has resonated with many, yet critics argue it glosses over Imperial Japan’s militarism. Not all view Onoda’s story favorably, with criticisms highlighting the omission of the Filipino perspective.

Accusations of violence by Onoda’s group, post-WWII, further cloud his legacy. His memoir sidestep these alleged atrocities.

Some accounts even suggest Onoda’s unit was responsible for the deaths of 30 Lubang islanders, inflicted not just through gunshots. Such omissions prompt debates about historical representation and the ethics of celebrating such figures.

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Death and Legacy

Hiroo Onoda passed away [at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo] on January 16, 2014, at the age of 91. The cause of death was a heart failure.

The former intelligence officer left behind a legacy of determination, endurance, and loyalty. His life story serves as a testament to the impact of deeply held beliefs and the potential consequences of misinformation.

Hiroo Onoda: Life and Major Facts

Hiroo Onoda was a Japanese intelligence officer in the Imperial Japanese Army who remained in active service in the Philippines for 29 years after World War II had ended, believing the war was still ongoing. Image: Hiroo Onoda as a young military intelligence officer, c 1944

Frequently Asked Questions about Hiroo Onoda

It was only when his former commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, personally traveled to Lubang Island in 1974 and relieved Onoda of his duty that he agreed to surrender. Onoda’s nearly three-decade-long endurance is an unparalleled example of dedication to duty, resilience, and survival skills. Image: Hiroo Onoda (right) with Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka in 1974

Why did Onoda continue fighting after World War II had ended?

Onoda was under orders not to surrender and believed that all communication about Japan’s surrender was Allied propaganda. He held on to his mission, awaiting further orders from his superiors.

When did Hiroo Onoda finally surrender?

Hiroo Onoda officially surrendered on March 9, 1974, handing over his sword, a still-operable Arisaka Type 99 rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition, hand grenades, and a dagger given by his mother for ritual suicide if captured.

His dedication exemplified the Japanese soldier’s discipline during World War II. Remarkably, only one other holdout, Private Teruo Nakamura, outlasted Onoda, being discovered later in Indonesia in December 1974.

What convinced him to come out of hiding and surrender?

Onoda only surrendered after his former commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, was brought to the Philippines to personally read out the orders to him that the war had ended.

Where did he hide for all those years?

Onoda hid in the jungles of Lubang Island in the Philippines.

Who pardoned Hiroo Onoda?

Hiroo Onoda was officially pardoned by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. The ceremony was televised.

Onoda handed over his weapons and met with President Marcos, who recognized the unique circumstances and granted him a pardon for any actions he may have taken during his prolonged stay in the jungle. Image: Japanese imperial army soldier Hiroo Onoda (right) offering his military sword to then-Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos on the day of his surrender, 11 March 1974

Were there other soldiers with him during his time in hiding?

Yes, initially, three other soldiers were with him, but over the years, they either surrendered or died.

How did the world discover that Onoda was still alive?

A Japanese adventurer named Norio Suzuki found Onoda in 1974 after specifically searching for him on Lubang Island.

How did Japan and the world react to his return?

Onoda became a national hero in Japan and was widely celebrated for his unwavering dedication and loyalty. His story attracted international attention, and he was viewed as an embodiment of the Japanese spirit of perseverance.

What did Hiroo Onoda do after returning to Japan?

Initially hailed as a hero, Onoda found the changed post-war Japan challenging to adjust to. He moved to Brazil in 1975 and became a farmer. By 1984, he returned to Japan and established a nature camp for children.

What was his time in Brazil like?

It’s said that he left for Brazil in April 1975 because he believed that the traditional Japanese values were fading.

In Brazil, he secured a land and raised cattle. He also became a prominent member of the Colônia Jamic (Jamic Colony), a Japanese community in Terenos, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil.

He returned to Japan in 1984 because he was moved by the news of the Japanese teenager who killed his parents in 1980. He then proceeded to establish a youth center to train young people skills in surviving in the wild.

When and where did Hiroo Onoda pass away?

Hiroo Onoda died on January 16, 2014, in Tokyo, Japan, at the age of 91.

What is the title of his memoir?

“No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War”, his memoir, published in 1974 became a bestseller.

What was the Imperial Japanese battlefield code Onoda abided by?

Conscripted into the Japanese army in 1942, Onoda underwent guerrilla combat training at the Futamata branch of the Nakano Military School. His teachings there contrasted the prevalent Senjinkun battlefield code, which mandated Japanese soldiers to avoid capture at all costs, even if it meant dying in combat or committing suicide.

What are some of the criticisms leveled against works that romanticize the story of Onoda?

The story of Hiroo Onoda, who remained in the Philippine jungles for nearly three decades refusing to believe that WWII had ended, has captivated many. Yet, works that romanticize Onoda’s story often face several criticisms:

  1. War Crimes: Some accuse romanticized accounts of ignoring or downplaying the fact that Onoda and his unit were potentially involved in various wartime atrocities and might have killed numerous Filipino civilians during their prolonged stay.
  2. Misrepresentation: By focusing on Onoda’s unwavering loyalty and dedication to his mission, these accounts might inadvertently present a skewed view of history. They risk overshadowing the broader context of WWII in the Pacific and Japan’s role in it.
  3. Patriotic Narrative: Some critics argue that the fascination with Onoda’s story in Japan is tied to a broader nationalistic narrative. In this view, accounts that emphasize Onoda’s dedication can be seen as a reflection of Japan’s post-war struggle with its national identity and the idealized virtues of loyalty, honor, and sacrifice.
  4. Overshadowing Local History: Such tales can sometimes overshadow the experiences of the local population. The Filipinos, who suffered both during the war and in the post-war years due to lingering Japanese soldiers, might feel that their stories are not given adequate weight or attention.
  5. Glorifying a War Mentality: By focusing on Onoda’s dedication to duty, there’s a risk of unintentionally glorifying a mindset that refuses to accept defeat or the realities of a changed world, which can be detrimental in promoting peace and understanding in the post-war era.
  6. Missed Opportunities for Reconciliation: By not adequately addressing the complexities of Onoda’s stay in the Philippines, including the potential harm done to locals, opportunities for reconciliation and mutual understanding might be missed.

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