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The last WWII soldier: didn't surrender until 1974!
Published on 10/26/2007

On December 17, 1944, the Japanese army sent a twenty-three year old soldier named Hiroo Onoda to the Philippines to join the Sugi Brigade. He was stationed on the small island of Lubang (Philippines), and his orders were to lead the Lubang Garrison in guerrilla warfare. As Onoda was departing to begin his mission, his division commander told him, "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 to give up your life voluntarily." It turns out that Onoda was exceptionally good at following orders, and it would be 29 years before he finally laid down his arms and surrendered.

In February 1945, towards the conclusion of World War II, he was still there when the Lubang Island was reclaimed by the Allies, but Onoda, and several other men, hid in the dense jungle. Onoda continued his campaign, initially living in the mountains with three fellow soldiers, Akatsu, Shimada, and Kozuka. One of his comrades, Akatsu, eventually surrendered to Filipino forces, and the other two were killed in gun battles with local forces—one in 1954, the other in 1972—leaving Onoda alone in the mountains. For 29 years, he refused to surrender, dismissing every attempt to convince him that the war was over as a ruse. In 1959, Onoda was declared legally dead in Japan.

Found by a Japanese student, Norio Suzuki, Onoda still refused to accept that the war was over unless he received orders to lay down his arms from his superior officer. Suzuki offered his help, and returned to Japan with photographs of himself and Onoda as proof of their encounter. In 1974 the Japanese government located Onoda's commanding officer, Major Taniguchi, who had since become a bookseller. He flew to Lubang and informed Onoda of the defeat of Japan in WWII and ordered him to lay down his arms. Lieutenant Onoda emerged from the jungle 29 years after the end of World War II, and accepted the commanding officer's order of surrender in his dress uniform and sword, with his Arisaka Type 99 rifle still in operating condition, 500 rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades. Though he had killed some thirty Philippine inhabitants of the island and engaged in several shootouts with the police, the circumstances of these events were taken into consideration, and Onoda received a pardon from President Ferdinand Marcos.

After his surrender, Onoda moved to Brazil, where he became a cattle farmer. He released an autobiography, No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War, shortly after his surrender, detailing his life as a guerrilla fighter in a war that was long over. He revisited Lubang Island in 1996, donating $10,000 for the local school on Lubang. He then married a Japanese woman and moved back to Japan where he established a nature camp for kids. At the camp Onoda shares what he learned about survival through resourcefulness and ingenuity. As of 2007, Onoda is still living in Japan.

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