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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Japanese WWII Soldier Who Refused To Surrender - Dies at 91

I am sure many of you are aware of the Japanese soldier who was hidden away in the islands of the Pacific… hidden away since Japan was involved in World War II… hidden away to continue fighting what he considered the good fight until the mid 1970s… nearly 30 years after war was officially declared over.

In fact, there were many such instances of Japanese soldiers still fighting for many years after the war had officially ended.

My very first exposure to such a phenomenon actually came via the 1960s television show, Gilligan's Island, about a group of seven castaways lost on an island. In one episode, they come across a Japanese sailor with a miniature submarine. He also appears in a second episode in a dream sequence.

That character made such an impact on me, that when I was invited to a Gilligan's Island costume party, I dressed up as the lost Japanese sailor and actually won the prize for best costume. It was a bottle of wine… not Japanese rice wine, unfortunately.

Anyhow… Lt. Onoda Hiroo, (born in March 1922 in Wakayama) the last Japanese soldier to stop fighting World War II in 1974 (at least we think he's the last) died in Tokyo at the age of 91 on Thursday, January 16, 2014.

In World War II, in the Pacific theater, Onoda (who seems quite happy in the photo shown of him arriving back in Japan, up above) was on the tiny island of Lubang, a part of the Philippines… sent there not to fight, but rather to spy on the US forces in the area.

Onoda must have been a hell of a spy, because he remained on the island well after the war was over. In fact, he was under direct orders to never surrender. He was a spy, after all.

A true credit to the Japanese army, even though the Allies defeated the Japanese in the Philippines back in 1944, Onoda avoided being captured… and remained on the lam living off what foods he could find in the jungle or steal from the locals… all the way until 1974.

"Every Japanese soldier was prepared for death, but as an intelligence officer I was ordered to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die," he told ABC in an interview in 2010.

"I became an officer and I received an order. If I could not carry it out, I would feel shame. I am very competitive," he added.

He simply refused to accept that Japan had lost the war.

It means he knew they had, but he still didn't accept that.

Now... here's something very interesting: On Lubang, Onoda, regardless of the era continued to spy on the military operations there... and apparently clashed occasionally with local residents.

But that's not the interesting part:

Onoda was not the only Japanese soldier who was left behind on the island when the war was declared over!

One other soldier gave up and came out of the jungle in 1950, one died during a battle with local troops in 1972, and the other... well, all we know is that he died, too.

So... for perhaps Onoda was only truly alone as a Japanese soldier for two years.  

Eventually, word got back to Japan that Onoda was still hiding in the jungles causing what mayhem he could to the locals… and so, on March 10, 1974, Japan sent his former commanding officer to Lubang to see him and, rather than convince him that the war was really over, he instead told Onoda that he was being relieved of his military duties.
Onoda (center) only surrendered to his former CO (right) who came to Lubang to see him.
Like it was right out of a movie, still wearing his well-worn army uniform, Onada saluted the Japanese flag,  bowed and handed over his military sword.

He was 52 years old at the time of his removal from Lubang, Philippines, and had spent about 30 years on the island playing spy. 

Quite naturally, Onoda was feted as a military hero, reaffirming that never say die attitude that Japan loves.

As an aside, it was just such an attitude - perfectly exhibited by Onoda - that caused the United States to fear that Japan would never give up the battle if it invaded its country, that every last Japanese person would fight to the death rather than ceded to the Allies… which is why, not quite as a last resort, but as a reason to afford ground troop loses, it dropped two atomic bombs, one each on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki.

Typically, while home in Japan as the conquering hero, the Philippines wanted him jailed, as he was blamed for multiple killings.

Perhaps because they figured the old boy Onoda was not quite all there in the melon, the Philippine Government pardoned him.

And yet… Onoda went back to the Philippines in 1996.

He said at the time: "For whatever reason I don't know, when I left this island I wasn't able to say thank you for all you did for me."

What the hell did the islanders do for him?

And… what about the multiple killings?

It turns out that even in 1996 - just like why there are still Nazi hunters scouring the planet, some folks in Lubang have not forgiven Onoda - believing him to be a murderer seven times over... or was it up to 30 killed?

After returning to Japan in 1974, Onoda didn't stay long and moved to Brazil in 1975 to be a cattle farmer. Ah yes... the Boys From Brazil. Nazi German war criminals were supposedly living there after the war, according to that movie from 1978.

For a guy who loved Japan so much, he didn't stay in Japan very long. Perhaps the constant hounding of people bothered someone used to being alone... or perhaps he truly had a screw loose... or perhaps he was disgusted with a Japan that would actually surrender and allow itself to become an Allie and rebuilt by its enemies.

I am unsure where this took place, but in 1984 Onoda was involved with a survivalist organization known as Onoda Shizenjyuku, which trained young Japanese in the survival and camping skills - skill he utilized while in the Philippines. Just by the name of the organization, I would have to assume it took place in Japan.

Onoda died at St. Luke's Hospital in Tokyo.

St. Lukes? Not a hospital with a Japanese one? Poor guy must have mellowed out in last years.

But here's the best! Onoda was NOT the last Japanese soldier to come out of the forests after World War II.

That honor (?) goes to Japanese army Private Nakamura Teruo (surname first) - who was actually a Japanese soldier from Taiwan, born October 8, 1919. He was found on the Indonesian Island of Morotai about nine months after Onoda in December of 1974. He was all alone, growing crops. 

Nakamura, when found, returned back home to Taiwan, and died there on June 15, 1979.

Andrew Joseph

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