Hiroo Onoda was the last soldier standing in the fight against the Allied Forces. The Japanese soldier spent 30 years of his life living in the wilderness, protecting his country. This is his story.
Where It All Began
Japan native, Hiroo Onoda, was 17-year old when he got accepted to work at a trading company. In 1939 he moved to China to officially start working. It was the first time he lived away from his parents.
Later on, he said in his autobiography No Surrender: My Thirty Year War, "China was so big that there was bound to be plenty of opportunities there, I was 17 and did not want to live off of my parents any longer." After a while, he was financially independent. But an unfortunate turn of events happened to the teenager.
His life in China was going great, but he was only there for nearly two years before things started to change. Onoda's career was about to come to an end after the Japanese Empire's surprise ambush on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Not long after the attack, Japan officially announced war on America. Each day more individuals were getting drafted into the army services as tensions continued to increase. It wasn't until May of 1942 that Onoda received a strange message in his mailbox.
Nearly any male who was over the age of 18 was getting called to be a part of the Japanese military. Since Onoda was of army age, he was also drafted. But it took about a year after they started the war for him to receive his letter that noted he needed to go in for his physical tests.
He wasn't sure that his athletic abilities would be able to pass the army tests. Ever since he had started living in China, Onoda started smoking nearly 50 cigarettes a day. That wasn't all - he was also constantly going out and partying. Yet somehow, he managed to surprise himself when he went in for the physical.
Officially a Soldier
He wasn't just surprised that his body was in enough shape to progress onto further steps of joining the army, he was ecstatic! Onoda was proud to be a citizen of Japan, and he was looking forward to defending his country in the war. Then things started to happen very fast.
He was sent to Nakayama, and he was initiated into the 61st Infantry Brigade. Although he was exerting all of his energy during boot camp, that didn't stop Onoda from also training during his personal time. He was set on making sure he was as strong as could be. His hard work proved to be worth it in the end.
A Rigorous Routine
He didn't hold back from going all-in with his workout routine. During the day, Onoda swam for many hours in the sea, trying to build endurance and create strong muscles. And while that on top of regular boot camp training may seem like a lot, it was just the begging for Onoda.
Later on in the day, when the sun started to come down, he worked on improving his techniques in kendo, a form of martial arts. With his incredibly active schedule, it didn't take long until the young boy started to look like a strong soldier ready for war.
Best In The Unit
When compared to his peers, it was clear that he had an impressive workout routine. Not to mention, the other comrades weren't working as hard as Onoda was. This didn't go unnoticed by the superiors in the unit. They saw a great deal of potential in the adolescent.
They decided that he would transfer to a new unit named "The Devil's Crew Men." The training there was reported to be diabolical. Onoda had no idea what he was getting into when he said goodbye to his first unit. He later revealed in his book that training in the new subdivision was when he experienced spiritual discipline.
Learning New Skills
Once again, the soldier was surpassing the other men in the unit, and he was given an upgrade. Onoda went on to be a part of the Futomata branch of the notorious Makinoma Military School. This was the stage in his training where he learned many important skills.
Onoda was taught guerrilla welfare, field intelligence, and many other crucial survival skills. This was very important because later on, his expertise in these skills would come into good use. He was looking forward to protecting Japan. But he then learned that he would be leaving his motherland.
Onoda was sent to go to the Philippines because, at the beginning of the war, Japan was seizing many of the majority country's islands. Since the majority of the battles were taking place on the Philippine islands, they sent many soldiers there to fight.
"Apprentice officer Onoda will proceed to Lubang Island, where he will lead the Lubang Garrison in Guerrilla Warfare," declared the infamous Japanese Intelligence Division major Takahashi. This military order was what led Onoda to be transferred to Manila.
Becoming a Leader
Major Takahashi left crucial instructions for Onoda, "You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we'll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him."
"You may have to live on coconuts. If that's the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you allowed to give up your life voluntarily," he finished the order. And as Onoda soon came to find out, things would be quite difficult on the island.
Plan of Action
It was already 1944 when Onoda was sent on this mission, and unfortunately, things with the war were starting to get difficult. When the soldier suggested to his comrades that they incorporate guerrilla welfare into their plan, many of them went against his idea.
He was growing infuriated that no one wanted to go along with his suggestions. The soldiers who were senior to Onoda explained, "If we blow it up now, we won't be able to use it when we recover control of the air." But, it didn't take long for the soldier to experience action in the war.
The Lubang Invasion
In February of 1945, the Lubang island was invaded by American troops. But the soldiers weren't the only ones who ambushed the area: the Navy and the Air Force came together to propel loads of artillery and bombs towards the island. The Allied Forces were persistent - it didn't seem like they were stopping anytime soon.
While many other soldiers were giving it their all and fighting back against the American soldiers, there was one Japanese man who took a different route. Onoda remembered that the Major had commanded him to fight no matter what and to stay alive. So he thought of an idea.
The Japanese soldier recalled in his book, "I decided on a retreat. If we dug in and made a stand where we were, we did not have the remotest chance of winning. I figured that the only chance left was to go up into the mountains and carry on a guerrilla campaign."
He thought they would have the best chance at survival if all the soldiers were split up into smaller groups - each one setting camp on a different hill. In his team, Onoda picked Suitshi Sumanta and Kinshiki Kozaka. Little did the 3 men know how intense things were about to become.
Despite each soldier carrying 45 pounds of equipment on their backs, they were non-stop on the go. Trying to steer clear from the American soldiers, Onoda and his cell were running from one place to the next. Their commitment to protecting Japan kept them going through the battle.
Every three nights, the teams would relocate to avoid getting caught by their opponents. And when they went to sleep, they lay on a slope, so they wouldn't have to continuously stand up when they heard a suspicious sound in the night. Yet, there was still one rival that Onoda and his crew couldn't stay away from.
A Different Kind of Enemy
Of course, since they were in a war, it wasn't always pleasant sleeping through the night. Not to mention, they were out in the wild on Lubang Island. The Japanese soldiers had more to worry about than American weapons coming at them. There was something more threatening in the Philippine wilderness.
The land they slept on had an overwhelming amount of huge rats, poisonous ants, bees, scorpions, centipedes, and snakes. At one point, Onoda was bitten on his ear by an ant, as he revealed in his book. Despite the high fever and 7 days of deafness he was met with, the soldier had even bigger problems to worry about.
The men fighting for Japan had no idea what they would experience on the Philippine island. There was a difficult rain season that they needed to endure. The water would come crashing down on them, making it near impossible to run from one place to the next, hiding from American soldiers.
Their solution was to build a base made of bamboos, trees, branches, vines, and coconut leaves. Each year the men would work together to form the bamboo huts to keep the rain out. They were getting situated to their new way of living, so much so that they made a stove using flat rocks. But soon, rations were running low.
Living On An Island
While the creepy crawlers and the rainy weather were a downfall of living on an island, there were a few upsides to the soldier's temporary home. The island always provided the men with lots of food, especially green bananas - a staple they boiled in coconut milk.
But fruit wasn't enough to keep the strong soldiers sustained: They also needed meat. Luckily many animals were living on the island for them to hunt. But because most of their energy was exerted fighting in the war, they found a simpler way of hunting that didn't involve using any of their weapons.
The Japanese soldiers kept an eye on nearby farms and watched the herds of cattle. Once they noticed that one of the cows had walked away from its group, it was go time. Onoda and the rest of the men would shoot the isolated animal and take it back to their base.
Just one large cow was able to provide them with at least three days worth of fresh meat. It also gave them a week's worth of salted meat which they could live off. Now all they needed was a carb, so the soldiers decided to head to a rice farm with a plan of action.
The Rice Farms
In the middle of the night, the Japanese soldiers would go to rice farms and destroy everything they saw - the land, the Filipino farmers, all of it. A major reason they did such an act was to make sure the Allied Forces didn't have a chance at getting any of the rice.
But stealing and causing damage amongst rice farms was distressful for many reasons. It was not only devastating for the farmers and the Allied Forces, but it was also hurtful to the island itself. It was unclear why these men committed such an act during WWII.
Time to Surrender
Finally, on September 2nd, 1945, World War II came to an end when Japan surrendered. And while nearly every soldier got the memo, there was one team who didn't. Onoda and his men were assumed to have passed away, so they weren't notified that the war was over.
But these soldiers were still alive. They were still on Lubang Island in the Philippines. They continued to ransack rice farms as well as assault Filipino locals. It wasn't until October 1945 that Onoda and his team found leaflets with news about the war. But, the Japanese soldier didn't believe it. He thought it was a ruse.
He Continued to Fight
Onoda believed that the Allied Forces were trying to get him to surrender from the war. He thought the leaflet was fake because he couldn't accept the fact that Japan might have yielded the fight. The soldier imagined his homeland wouldn't give up until every last soldier fought to their end.
Onoda and his crew continued to battle for their country for many years after the war ended. They went on hurting the land of Filipino residents and even planning many ambushes on the airport's runways. Unfortunately, these continued attacks led to many passing away. Finally, Filipino authorities tried to stop the Japanese men.
The Filipino officials attempted to get the attention of the men on the island by having the Philippine Air Force send down more leaflets. They even included images and notes of the soldiers' families back home. They had hoped this would make them surrender, but Onoda still thought it was a ploy.
While they thought they were doing the right thing by not listening to the messages, the soldiers would soon come to figure out that was a mistake. Usually, anyone who entered the island was shot down by the Japanese men, but when a clan of fishermen entered the region, things took a sudden turn.
When the soldiers first saw the fishermen, they assumed they were military secret agents. Immediately they fired their weapons to protect themselves, yet little did they know the outsiders would fight right back. After things had finally settled and the strangers left the island, they noticed something bad had happened.
Shimada was wounded, causing him to be immobilized. Unfortunately, he quickly became ill, pale, and even had cold sweats. He spent his final days looking at the pictures of his family as he continuously whispered to himself, "10 years," referring to how long it had been. Now the only ones who were left were Onoda and Kosaka.
18 Years Later
Despite being comrades and having each other's back throughout the entirety of the war and beyond, Onoda and Kosaka never became friends since they weren't fond of one another. But that never stopped them from working together to protect their home for 18 years.
On October 19th, 1972, Onoda couldn't help his comrade as he had in the past. The two soldiers were in a battle with Filipino police when Kosaka was hit by a few bullets. Sadly, he never made it out that day - which meant the only soldier left from the Japanese army was now Onoda.
Enter Norio Suzuki
While there was lots of chaos happening on Lubang Island, other things were occurring back in Japan. Norio Suzuki was a young Japanese man who didn't follow the rules of his society. He was inspired by the American hippie lifestyle, and rather than having a day job, he was an explorer.
Suzuki was determined to accomplish three things in life. The first to find a panda, the second to meet an abominable snowman in real-life, and lastly, find Hiroo Onoda, the lost Japanese soldier. So in 1974, he started his journey to Lubang Island to complete his third goal.
An Easy Discovery
According to Suzuki, it didn't take much to find the lone soldier. Essentially he just needed to call out for Onoda, and before he knew it, he was right in front of him. Of course, Onodas's instinct was to put his weapon up in defense. But after Suzuki explained why he was there, the tensions decreased.
The determined Japanese soldier told the young men he would only come home if his commander ordered him to surrender. Instead of arguing with him, Suzuki understood his demands and went back to notify the government. Soon enough, they tracked down Major Yoshimi Taniguchi. And history was made.
Giving Up His Sword
Major Yoshimi Taniguchi knew he needed to go to Lubang Island and give his orders to Onoda face to face. Even though by this point, the commander was an older man, he was set on completing this mission. Due to the unusual circumstances, the media was all over the situation, documenting all of it.
Many questions were asked, and thousands of pictures were taken. But after the chaos was settled, Onoda was able to get a restful sleep without any distress for the first time in 30 years. Although the Philippines pardoned him for taking the lives of 50 people, Japan respected him as a hero. But he didn't feel right being back.
A Different Japan
The last time Onoda was in japan was in the 1940s. So after 30 years, it was bound that many things were drastically different. He couldn't recognize his homeland anymore. Especially the post-war lifestyle they had adapted to where tradition and nationalism had diminished. Onoda found himself missing the old Japan.
He was astonished to learn he had spent so many years in battle protecting a country that was so heavily influenced by Western culture. Even though he had just finally returned home from the island, Onoda felt the need to leave the country. So he called up his brother and hatched a new plan.
His New Outlook on Life
Onoda started questioning the past three decades of his life. He felt confused about what to do next and knew he couldn't stay in Japan. Luckily for him, he had a brother living in Brazil at the time. So, he moved there and settled in a Japanese community. Ironically, in his new home, he started a job as a cattle farmer.
It wasn't long before he met a woman named Machie, who was a teacher for ancient Japanese customers. The two fell in love, and by 1976, they tied the knot. It seemed like his new life in Brazil was coming along nicely. But something disturbing happened back in Japan that sent Onoda back home.
Mentoring the Youth
After being rejected from college, a problematic Japanese teenager tragically murdered both of his parents. This story quickly spread throughout the country, so much so that it made its way to the Japanese community in Brazil. Onoda realized that the youth of the country were too fragile.
In 1984, he and Machie packed up their bags and headed back to the homeland. Together they created a camp that was meant to mentor the youth and help guide them. The Onoda Nature School taught several survival skills that helped Onoda survive the wildlife for so many years.
His Final Days
Onoda believed that everything he learned on the island was the key to understanding one's purpose in life. So he continued teaching children and traveling to many schools to give speeches. He explained that anyone who felt lost should spend time in nature because that's where the answers lie.
Onoda refused any gifts and even said no to the backpay money the army owed him - donating what he could to the Shinto memorial shrine. He went through life living off the royalties from his book and his army pension. And on January 16th, 2014, the Japanese hero passed away. But his story is bound to live on forever...