The Japanese soldier who held out in a Philippine jungle for 29 years after the end of World War II died. Hiroo Onoda was 91. Read his story–including why he finally turned himself in– after the jump.
Would you say Lt. Onoda was an example of outrageous stubborness (a vice) or inspirational integrity (a virtue)? How does this relate to vocation?
A lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army, Mr. Onoda spent an additional 29 years hiding in the jungle of an isolated Philippine island.
The Japanese government spent a small fortune trying to alert stragglers like Mr. Onoda about the war’s end, but he dismissed it as enemy propaganda. He stuck to his gun and headed back into the bush in the service of his emperor, bracing for an enemy that didn’t exist anymore.
For Mr. Onoda, who continued beyond belief to follow wartime orders, loyalty was not only blind but deaf.
He emerged in 1974, emaciated but still sporting what remained of his old uniform. Mr. Onoda, who died Jan. 16 at age 91, was the last Japanese soldier to come out of hiding in the Philippines, having survived through thievery, asceticism and undeviating will. He said he thought of “nothing but accomplishing my duty.”
To many Japanese at the time, he embodied prewar virtues of endurance, obedience and sacrifice — qualities that seemed increasingly antiquated as the country transformed from the devastation of war into an economic powerhouse and a hive of materialism. . . .
Other Japanese soldiers from World War II lived on for decades, guerrilla-style recluses in the jungles of Guam and Indonesia, but Mr. Onoda stirred the deepest emotional and nostalgic response. Many who stayed hidden for so long cited fear of execution, but Mr. Onoda remained committed to his mission of watching the skies for American bombers.
His orders: “To continue carrying out your mission even after the Japanese Army surrenders, no matter what happens.” . . .
Mr. Onoda and a few other soldiers went underground, waging a low-level guerrilla campaign while still in their old fatigues. One of the men surrendered a few years after the war. Others were killed in gun battles with the Philippine police — the last in 1972 — reinforcing Mr. Onoda’s belief, he said, that the war was still on.
As the decades passed, Mr. Onoda’s family made attempts, via loudspeaker and dropped leaflets, to persuade him to come out of hiding. He later professed to disbelieve the war was truly over: The blandishments to leave his post must be Allied propaganda.
But he got older and a life of banditry became more difficult. He seemed more amenable to reality when he crossed paths in February 1974 with a young Japanese adventurer, Norio Suzuki, who had gone in quixotic pursuit of Mr. Onoda.
As farfetched as his nearly 30 years in isolation seemed, Mr. Onoda explained his perspective to Suzuki: If the war were truly over, why had he never received orders from his superiors?
Suzuki took this message back to Japan, where the military located Mr. Onoda’s superior officer, former Maj. Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had gone on to a career as a bookseller, and arranged for his transport to Lubang.
Mr. Onoda stood at attention with his regulation army rifle as Taniguchi read out the imperial army’s proclamation of surrender from 1945.
As Time magazine reported of the “wartime Rip van Winkle,” Mr. 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.’ ”