Soldier Continued Fighting WWII Because He Didn’t Know It Ended

The date is 1945 and the war in the Pacific
is not going well for Japan. What started out as a campaign of blistering
successes that saw the Japanese empire spread across South East Asia has turned into a fight
for its life against the United States. The words of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto just
after the raid on Pearl Harbor now ring in every Japanese commander’s ears, “I fear
all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” Pushed back across the Pacific on every front,
the situation only worsens for Japan as they now also face growing Russian forces on the
eastern borders of their collapsing empire, each Russian soldier eager for revenge after
suffering humiliating defeats in the decades prior to World War II. Yet the Japanese bushido code is clear: there
can be no surrender, even in the face of certain defeat. But of all the soldiers in the Japanese army,
few would embody the bushido code more than Hiroo Onoda, who would continue waging World
War II for thirty years after its end. Born on March 19th, 1922, Onoda joined the
Japanese Imperial Army when he was 18 years old. Onoda was one of a long line of warriors,
able to trace his family’s fighting ancestry all the way back to samurai ancestors that
took part in the frequent wars that plagued Japan’s feudal history. His own father had served in the Japanese
cavalry and died in the Second Sino-Japanese war. Showing an aptitude for outside the box thinking,
Onoda was soon training as an intelligence officer in an elite commando school. The precursor to modern special forces training,
the Nakano School trained troops specialized in jungle and guerilla warfare, sabotage,
counterintelligence, and propaganda- skills that would come in great use for Onodo in
the years to come. In 1942 Japan had seized the Philippines and
overthrown the Filipino government, forcing the surrender of their US allies. Just two years later though Japanese forces
were spread thin around the South Pacific, and America, indeed full of terrible resolve,
had pushed Japan back on every front. Now they threatened the Philippines themselves,
an important strategic position in the war. With its proximity to South Pacific sea trade
lanes, control of the Philippines would allow the US to threaten Japan’s oil supplies, and
if that happened then the rest of the Japanese fleet had only months of supplies to fight
with. The Philippines must be held at all costs,
and so a bloody resistance of the American invasion began. By winter of 1944 though most of the Japanese
were forced off the major islands and to the smaller islands that ring the archipelago. On December 26th, 1944, Onoda was dispatched
to Lubang Island and instructed to engage in a guerilla warfare campaign against invading
US troops. Conventional Japanese military protocol however
demanded that Japanese troops face the invaders head-on, rather than retreat and fight an
unconvential war from the shadowy jungles the way Onoda had been trained and ordered
to do. Upon arriving at the island, Onoda’s superior
officers refused his previous orders and prevented him from carrying out his objectives, which
was to abandon several fortified defensive positions and flee to the jungles before launching
a series of surprise attacks against a nearby airfield and pier. Hopelessly outnumbered and overpowered, the
Japanese defensive garrison was utterly defeated when American forces landed on February 28th
1945. Seeing that defeat was imminent, Onoda, who
was under strict orders to not surrender or take his own life if defeated, ordered three
other soldiers, Private Yuichi Akatsu, Corporal Shoichi Shimada, and Private First Class Kinshichi
Kozuka, to follow him into the jungle and begin a resistance against the American invaders. US forces quickly left the island after eliminating
the Japanese garrison though, and Onoda began to engage in guerilla raids against local
Filipino troops. Noticing a lull in the fighting though around
October of 1945, and with no way of contacting any other Japanese unit to learn of Japan’s
surrender, Onoda assumed that the main course of the war had shifted elsewhere, but continued
his guerilla campaign regardless. Onoda and his men laid ambushes for local
farmers and engaged in shootouts with police forces in the area, and the US, realizing
that there was an active Japanese resistance still on the island by troops who had no idea
the war was over, began to drop leaflets informing the soldiers of Japan’s surrender. Onoda eventually stumbled across one of these
leaflets but immediately assumed that it was propaganda meant to lure him and his men out
so they could be captured. His training in propaganda techniques only
made Onoda more suspicious of the leaflets, and in his mind he was but one of several
Japanese units still fighting behind enemy lines. Surely Japan had been pushed back- but defeated? Impossible. Toward the end of the year though more leaflets
were dropped in the jungles of the Philippines, and this time with official surrender orders
signed by General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the Fourteenth Army. Onoda carefully scrutinized the orders, but
once more his propaganda training kicked in and he surmised that these were fake too. Moreso however, the idea that the entire Japanese
army had surrendered seemed ludicrous to Onoda and his men, who firmly believed that Japan
would fight unto the very last man just as they were now doing. For four more years the team of guerillas
continued their war against the people of the Philippines, raiding farms for supplies
and attacking police forces and farmers. The men sabotaged fishing boats and generally
engaged in as much destructive activity as they were capable. Trained to live off the land, Onoda and his
men gathered what fruits they could and stole rice, grain and other foodstuffs from their
raids on local farmers, and continued their war with a stash of ammunition and grenades
that could see four men fight for years to come. In 1949 however, Private Akatsu came to the
realization that the war was over, and left the unit to live by himself in the jungle
for six months before surrendering to the Philippine Army on March 1950. Akatsu let US and Filipino authorities know
of the other men still fighting in the jungle, and the US underwent a campaign to track down
family members of the other three holdouts. Eventually they obtained family photos and
letters from relatives all urging the soldiers to surrender, air dropping the messages across
Lubang island in 1952. Unfortunately, upon discovering the letters
and photos, Onoda assumed that the Japanese homeland had fallen and their loved ones were
now living under American occupation and thus forced to write these letters. This belief only filled Onoda and his men
with greater resolve to continue resisting. Two years later though Corporal Shimada was
shot and killed by a Filipino search party that was looking for the men, intending to
arrest them and bring them to trial for the murders they had committed. For another 18 years Onoda would continue
his war alongside Private First Class Kinshichi Kozuka, clashing with police forces and farmers,
until in 1972, Kozuka would be killed by police while raiding a local village. Onoda was now all alone, and still he refused
to surrender. In 1974 Japanese adventurer Norio Suzuki embarked
on a trip around the world. Lieutenant Onoda had become something of a
celebrity in Japan by this point, who had become entranced by the soldier’s refusal
to surrender. As the highlights of Suzuki’s trip, he declared
that he wanted to see Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that
very order. In February of that year, Suzuki landed in
Lubang island and managed to track down Onoda, greeting him by saying, “Onoda-san, the
Emperor and the people of Japan are worried about you.” Suzuki informed the old soldier that the war
had been over for decades, yet Onoda said that he would not surrender until relieved
of duty by a superior officer. The Japanese government quickly tracked down
Onoda’s surviving commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, and flew him to Lubang. On March 9th, 1974, and 52 years old, Onoda
emerged from the jungle still dressed in his service uniform and carrying his rifle and
service sword, accepting the order from his commanding officer to at last surrender. Later, he would surrender his sword to the
president of the Philippines, who granted Onoda a pardon for his many crimes. Upon returning to Japan Onoda was hailed as
a hero, yet Onoda was deeply troubled by the Japan he returned to. He did not believe that Japan should have
apologized for the war in Asia, and he was utterly dismayed to discover that the military
had been dissolved by the Allies. Uncomfortable with the new, liberal Japan
who wanted to distance itself from its war-like past, Onoda became involved with right-wing
politics, calling for Japan to return to its former military might and become a world power
again. Luckily, nobody paid much attention to Onoda,
and unable to accept a peaceful, liberal Japan not under the thumb of the military, Onoda
eventually moved to Brazil in 1975, where he would spend most of his life. Onoda’s thirty year war was an incredible,
if foolhardy, act of dedication. While initially praised as a national hero
and a ‘soldier’s soldier’ by the Japanese people and admirers around the world, Onoda’s
return and troubling penchant for authoritarianism quickly saw him fall out of favor with a population
thoroughly sick of war. In the end, Onoda was a relic of the past
who couldn’t accept the change that had gripped the world after the horrors of World War II,
change which valued international cooperation over empire building. Think you could’ve lasted in the jungle for
thirty years alongside Onoda? If you enjoyed this video, make sure you watch
our other video The Insanely Crazy Story of a Tiny Soldier. Also, don’t forget to like share and subscribe! See you next time!

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