No Retreat, No Surrender

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

This week marks the death of Hiroo Onoda (小野田 寛郎), one of the last two Japanese soldiers to officially surrender after the end of World War II, at the age of 91.  Although the war officially ended in 1945, Second Lieutenant Onoda, who was an intelligence officer stationed in the Phiippines during the war, refused to surrender for another 30 years until 1974, when his former commander traveled from Japan to personally issue orders relieving him from duty.  His service was exceeded only by private Teruo Nakamura, who held out for a few more months, only to also surrender in Indonesia in 1974.  


Onoda had joined the Imperial Army at the age of 20 and sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines, where his duties including monitoring and disrupting enemy movements and capabilities. His orders were to never surrender or take his own life.  His unit, which included three other soldiers, continued to carry out attacks through 1945.  When the war ended, they found a note from other soldiers telling them that the war was over.  However, they believed the note was a forgery.  Toward the end of 1945, leaflets were dropped by air with a surrender order printed on them from General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army. They had been in hiding for over a year, and this leaflet was the only evidence they had the war was over. Onoda's group looked very closely at the leaflet to determine whether it was genuine, and decided it was not.  Over the next 30 years, they continued to carry out guerrilla-style attacks, ignoring increasing evidence that the war had ended.  During that time, two of their group were killed in attacks and another turned himself in.  


On February 20, 1974, Onoda met a Japanese man, Norio Suzuki, who was traveling around the world, looking for "Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order”.  Suzuki found Onoda after four days of searching. Onoda described this moment in a 2010 interview: "This hippie boy Suzuki came to the island to listen to the feelings of a Japanese soldier. Suzuki asked me why I would not come out ..." Onoda and Suzuki became friends, but Onoda still refused to surrender, saying that he was waiting for orders from a superior officer. Suzuki returned to Japan with photographs of himself and Onoda as proof of their encounter, and the Japanese government located Onoda's commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had since become a bookseller. He flew to Lubang where on March 9, 1974, and delivered orders to Onoda, relieving him of his duties.  Onoda “bowed stiffly in acknowledgment that his war was over – and then proceeded to brief his commander about his 29 years of intelligence gathered on ‘enemy movements.'


Though he had killed people and engaged in shootouts with the police, Onoda received a pardon from President Ferdinand Marcos.  In his formal surrender to Marcos, Onoda wore his 30-year-old imperial army uniform, cap and sword, all of which were in good condition. His Arisaka Type 99 rifle was still in operational condition.  He offered his sword in surrender to President Marcos, who returned it to him.  After publishing a book about his story, Onoda moved to Brazil, where he became a farmer.  He had no interest in the modern world or technology.  He later returned to Japan to start a school for wilderness survival school young children to introduce them to nature and help prevent juvenile delinquency.