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Hiroo Onoda (Hirō Onoda) was an Intelligence Officer in the Japanese Army who kept fighting in the jungle for almost 30 years after World War II ended.

After his graduation in 1939, Onoda went to central China (under Japanese control at that time) to work for a lacquerware company. In May 1942, (after Pearl Harbor) he was drafted for military duty, starting December of that year. Onoda was ecstatic to serve his country; he cabled to his family: "Class A Banzai".

Onoda served several months in the infantry in China before being selected for officer training. The officer training lasted very long: when Onoda graduated in 1944 the war was going very badly for Japan. Onoda was transferred to a secret intelligence school in Nakano, where he was taught in spying techniques, disinformation, and sabotage.

Lt. Onoda was sent to Lubang Island (in the Philippines), where he would lead a small guerrilla army. His instructions were not to trust anyone, and to keep fighting at all costs.

The Pacific war was a swift battle; the Japanese forces did not have much defense against the many ships, fighters and bombers. Many Japanese kept fighting in suicide missions. Onoda however was trained to survive, and retreated to the mountains to carry on his guerrilla operations.

In the fall of 1945, the American troops were dropping leaflets in Japanese, urging the remaining Japanese troops to cease fire and to come out of hiding. Many troops were convinced that Emperor Hirohito would never surrender, and kept on fighting. Onoda, trained in disinformation strategy, was also convinced that this was simply a plot from the Americans to lure the Japanese out of hiding.

In the years following the war, many search parties (including Onoda's family) tried to convince Onoda and his men to stop fighting. They remained in the jungle, living on nuts, berries, frogs, snails and rats. There were occasional raids of the island's farmers. However, less and less was heard of Onoda and his men, so he was declared legally dead.

By 1974, Onoda was alone. One day, he approached a young Japanese man, who was surprised to see this person of almost mythological proportions. Onoda agreed that he would only surrender by order of his commanding officer. Luckily, this person was still alive, and Onoda came out of hiding on March 10, 1974. Onoda gave his sword to Ferdinand Marcos, the president of the Philippines before returning to Japan.

In Japan, Onoda opened a nature camp for children, and wrote an autobiography1. However, Onoda would never get used to modern day life in Japan after an absence of almost thirty years, in which his country underwent a radical metamorphosis. He visited Lubang island one more time in 1996. Onoda is currently living on a ranch in Brazil.

Editors Note:

Onoda died, aged 91, on January 16, 2014 in a hospital in Tokyo, due to complications from pneumonia.

1: Hiroo Onoda (transl. Charles S. Terry), No surrender: My Thirty-Year War, Kodansha America, Inc., December 1974.

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