Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was deployed to Lubang Island in the Philippines in December 1944. He was 22 years old. His orders as an intelligence officer were to disrupt and sabotage the enemy’s plans and never to surrender or take his own life.
In February of 1945, Allied forces arrived on the island. It wasn’t long before Onoda and three others were the only Japanese on the island who had not surrendered or died. The four men slipped into the hills and planned to keep fighting as guerilla soldiers.
They lived on bananas, coconut milk, and stolen cattle while occasionally engaging in shootouts with the local police.
In late 1945, the men began to see leaflets that had been dropped from airplanes. The leaflets announced that the war was over and ordered Japanese soldiers to surrender. They thought about it, decided it was a trick, and kept on fighting.
In 1950, one of the men surrendered. Another was killed in 1954 by a search party. Private First Class Kinsichi Kozuka was killed by police in 1972 while he and Onoda were destroying rice stores at a local farm.
This left Onoda completely alone and made him a living legend on Lubang.
The story of Onoda was heard by a young adventurer named Norio Suzuki. He decided to find “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order.”
The two men met in the Lubang jungle on February 20, 1974. Somehow, they became friends.
Suzuki told Onoda that the people of Japan were worried about him. Onoda was resolute that he would never surrender until ordered by a superior officer.
Suzuki went back to Japan and, with the government’s help, found Onoda’s commanding officer. Major Yoshimi Taniguchi was now an elderly man working in a bookstore, but he flew to Lubang and relieved Onoda of his duties on March 9, 1974, almost 29 years after the war’s end. Three days later, Onoda surrendered his sword to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.
Onoda returned to Japan and set up a survival-training school for children. He died on January 16, 2014.