In 1974, Hirō Onoda Became The Last Japanese World War Two Soldier To Surrender

 
 
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World War II ended in Europe on May 8, 1945. As for Southeast Asia and Oceania, peace only came several months later on September 2, when Japan finally surrendered. Except for one man, that is. For him, WWII only ended in 1974.

Our story begins in the Philippines – a Spanish colony until the Spanish-American War of 1898. To keep it short, the Spanish lost and the Philippines became American property.

Fast forward to the 20th century. Japan wanted an empire in its backyard by taking Southeast Asia and Oceania. But there was a problem – various European nations owned almost all of it.

So Japan made an alliance with Nazi Germany. With the latter wreaking havoc in Europe and North Africa, as well as threatening the British Isles, well… that took care of the British.

Proposed Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia and Oceania Image Source: Wikipedia
Proposed Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia and Oceania.

And with Britain distracted, all of her colonies were left vulnerable. Ditto with French-Indochina and the Dutch colonies, since France and the Netherlands fell to the Germans early on in the war.

That left the American territory of the Philippines – so what to do? Simple: (1) Bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and (2) obliterate its Pacific Fleet.

Ten hours later, while the Americans were still putting out the fires, Japan attacked the Philippines on December 8.

The country’s central location gave Japan the staging post it needed to attack the rest of the region. Its vast resources also helped fuel the Japanese war effort, while the Filipinos made excellent (albeit unwilling) slaves. But there was another problem.

Hirō Onoda (right) with his brother Jiro.
Hirō Onoda (right) with his brother Jiro.

The Philippines is made up of over 7,000 islands (depending on whether or not it’s low or high tide). Taking a few didn’t mean that you had the rest, any more than taking out Pearl Harbor meant that the Americans were deprived of an army, a navy, and an air force.

So that left one final problem – the Americans weren’t going to give up their property without a fight.

Enter Hiroo Onoda. Born in Kamekawa, Japan on March 19, 1922 to a samurai (warrior class) family, his career was set. At 18, he enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army Infantry. Sent to the Nakano School (the main training center for military intelligence and unconventional warfare), Onoda became both a commando and an intelligence officer.

On December 26, 1944 he was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines to join the Sugi Brigade. Though Lubang is a tiny backwater, it lies a mere 75 miles southwest of the capital at Manila.