Hiroo Onoda: The Japanese WWII Soldier that Surrendered in 1974 - History Key

Hiroo Onoda: The Japanese WWII Soldier that Surrendered in 1974

We all know that WW2 ended in 1945, and we also know that for the Japanese Empire everything ended when the two atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, causing around 230.000 “instant deaths” and leaving behind the radioactive burst.

But we also know how determinate and dedicated were the Japanese soldiers, very capable in fighting but fanatical in discipline and bravery. Many would say that the Japanese troops were more likely a bunch of desperate fanatics, trained to attack the Soviets, by outnumbering the enemy without any care related to the loss of soldier’s lives.

But besides all the questionable aspects of tactics or beliefs, we must admit that the Japanese always had a very high sense of honor, which very probably always represented their true engine.

This time, History Key will unlock for you an incredible story, the story of a Japanese soldier who surrendered after almost 30 years since WW2 ended. His name is Hiroo Onoda.

H. Onoda, c. 1944
H. Onoda, c. 1944 © Keystone Hulton Archive Getty Images

A devoted soldier

Born on March 19, 1922, in Kamekawa village, Japan, Hiroo belonged to a family of samurai warriors, and his father served in the 4th Cavalry Brigade until 1943, when was declared KIA in China. At the age of 18, Hiroo was already an infantry soldier in the Japanese Imperial Army.

Hiroo eventually was trained in the intelligence service, becoming an officer in the commando class ”Futamata”. From there, he was deployed to Lubang Island, in the Philippines.

He had the mission to apply any possible tactic against the enemy assaults on the island. An important aspect related to his mission, was the fact that under no circumstances surrender or suicide was accepted. Onoda had to stay there in order to resist until new orders would arrive.

At the beginning, Onoda shared the island with a group of soldiers who arrived there previously. Onoda there unranked and stopped to reach the goals of his assignment, because the other officers wanted to let the US troop took the island in order to end a useless stay and war.

The Allied troops took the island on February 28, 1945. All but Onoda and other three soldiers surrendered to the US troops or died; then Onoda ordered to the three soldiers to start their move to the hills.

Onoda in the jungle
Onoda in the jungle © Image Source: youtube.com

“Every Japanese soldier was prepared for death, but as an intelligence officer, I was ordered to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die. I had to follow my orders, as I was a soldier.” – Hiroo Onoda

Survival is an order

The small group survived on bananas or coconut milk. The meat was very rare for them, and accessible only if stolen while engaging the local police in shootouts.

In late 1945, the 4 Japanese soldiers found air-dropped leaflets stating that the war was over and encouraging them to come out from their holdouts. Onoda and his soldiers considered the leaflets a trick so they continued their isolated guerrilla life. Eventually, Onoda remained completely alone, after one of his soldiers surrendered in 1950 and the police shot the other two during search party.

Hiroo’s luck is related to another name, Norio Suzuki, a young adventurer who heard the story and was willing to go after Onoda. On February 20, 1974, Suzuki intercepted Onoda in the middle of the Lubang jungle. They quickly become friends, probably also because Onoda was in need for any kind of human communication.

Norio Suzuki and Hiroo Onoda in the jungle. Suzuki with Hiroo's rifle
Norio Suzuki and Hiroo Onoda in the jungle. Suzuki with Hiroo’s rifle © Image Source: mashable.com

You would say that now everything was settled in the proper way and that Onoda would go home in order to resume his civilian life but no, that won’t happen if you belong to a family of ancient samurai warriors.

“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. I said that if the war was over and I received an order telling me to stop fighting I would come out. So Suzuki brought my commanding officer to Lubang and he did just that.” – Hiroo Onoda 

Yes, that is right: Onoda was willing to surrender and leave his holdout, only if a superior Japanese officer would give that order to him. Suzuki did not leave the case, so once returned to Japan, was able to track down Onoda’s commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who eventually flew with Suzuki to Lubang, on March 9, 1974.

Then, Taniguchi formally relieved Onoda of his duties, after 29 years after the end of WW2.

Onoda, after being persuaded that the war was over
Onoda, after being persuaded that the war was over © Image Source: Mashable.com

Still following the orders

Onoda last military custom was more likely a custom related to honor, that honor so common in his samurai family. Three days after he left the island, Onoda surrendered his sword to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. President Marcos gave a pardon to Onoda, considering that during his private war he and his soldiers had killed around 30 people.

Onoda surrendering his sword to President Marcos
Onoda surrendering his sword to President Marcos © Image Source: mashable.com

Even if Onoda was welcomed in Japan as a hero, he moved to Brazil where he becomes a cattle rancher. Eventually, after around 10 years, he came back to Japan, where he established a school to teach wilderness survival tactics to children.

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

As for Suzuki, who stated that his biggest goals in life were to find Onoda, a panda and the Abominable Snowman, things went differently. Even if shortly after finding Onoda he managed to find also a panda, he died in an avalanche in the Himalayas, in 1986, while searching for the Abominable Snowman.

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