Over the Years
Year after year, the four men huddled together in the rain, searched for food, and sometimes attacked villagers. They fired on the villagers because, "We considered people dressed as islanders to be enemy troops in disguise or enemy spies. The proof that they were was that whenever we fired on one of them, a search party arrived shortly afterward."3 It had become a cycle of disbelief. Isolated from the rest of the world, everyone appeared to be the enemy.
In 1949, Akatsu wanted to surrender. He didn't tell any of the others; he just walked away. In September 1949 he successfully got away from the others and after six months on his own in the jungle, Akatsu surrendered. To Onoda's cell, this seemed like a security leak and they became even more careful of their position.
In June 1953, Shimada was wounded during a skirmish. Though his leg wound slowly got better (without any medicines or bandages), he became gloomy. On May 7, 1954, Shimada was killed in a skirmish on the beach at Gontin.
For nearly 20 years after Shimad's death, Kozuka and Onoda continued to live in the jungle together, awaiting the time when they would again be needed by the Japanese army. Per the division commanders instructions, they believed it was their job to remain behind enemy lines, reconnoiter and gather intelligence to be able to train Japanese troops in guerrilla warfare in order to regain the Philippine islands.
In October 1972, at the age of 51 and after 27 years of hiding, Kozuka was killed during a clash with a Filipino patrol. Though Onoda had been officially declared dead in December 1959 Kozuka's body proved the likelihood that Onoda was still living. Search parties were sent out to find Onoda, but none succeeded.
Onoda was now on his own. Remembering the division commander's order, he could not kill himself yet he no longer had a single soldier to command. Onoda continued to hide.
In 1974, a college dropout named Norio Suzuki decided to travel to the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, Nepal, and perhaps a few other countries on his way. He told his friends that he was going to search for Lt. Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman.4 Where so many others had failed, Suzuki succeeded. He found Lt. Onoda and tried to convince him that the war was over. Onoda explained that he would only surrender if his commander ordered him to do so.
Suzuki traveled back to Japan and found Onoda's former commander, Major Taniguchi, who had become a bookseller. On March 9, 1974, Suzuki and Taniguchi met Onoda at a preappointed place and Major Taniguchi read the orders that stated all combat activity was to be ceased. Onoda was shocked and, at first, disbelieving. It took some time for the news to sink in.
We really lost the war! How could they have been so sloppy?During the 30 years that Onoda had remain hidden on Lubang island, he and his men had killed at least 30 Filipinos and had wounded approximately 100 others. After formally surrendering to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Marcos pardoned Onoda for his crimes while in hiding.
Suddenly everything went black. A storm raged inside me. I felt like a fool for having been so tense and cautious on the way here. Worse than that, what had I been doing for all these years?
Gradually the storm subsided, and for the first time I really understood: my thirty years as a guerrilla fighter for the Japanese army were abruptly finished. This was the end.
I pulled back the bolt on my rifle and unloaded the bullets. . . .
I eased off the pack that I always carried with me and laid the gun on top of it. Would I really have no more use for this rifle that I had polished and cared for like a baby all these years? Or Kozuka's rifle, which I had hidden in a crevice in the rocks? Had the war really ended thirty years ago? If it had, what had Shimada and Kozuka died for? If what was happening was true, wouldn't it have been better if I had died with them?5
When Onoda reached Japan, he was hailed a hero. Life in Japan was much different than when he had left it in 1944. Onoda bought a ranch and moved to Brazil but in 1984 he and his new wife moved back to Japan and founded a nature camp for kids. In May 1996, Onoda returned to the Philippines to see once again the island on which he had hidden for 30 years.
On Thursday, January 16, 2014, Hiroo Onoda died at age 91.
1. Hiroo Onoda, No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War (New York: Kodansha International Ltd., 1974) 44.
2. Onoda, No Surrender 75.
3. Onoda, No Surrender 94.
4. Onoda, No Surrender 7.
5. Onoda, No Surrender 14-15.
"Hiroo Worship." Time 25 March 1974: 42-43.
"Old Soldiers Never Die." Newsweek 25 March 1974: 51-52.
Onoda, Hiroo. No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War. Trans. Charles S. Terry. New York: Kodansha International Ltd., 1974.
"Where It Is Still 1945." Newsweek 6 Nov. 1972: 58.