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.
Here’s a detailed overview of his life and the significant events associated with him:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Critics of Hiroo Onoda
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.
Frequently Asked Questions about Hiroo Onoda
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.
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.