Monday, February 11, 2013

How a traveling Hippie's message to a Japanese bookseller in 1973 finally ended World War Two

Hiroo Onoda

When it comes to stubbornness and denial, few people on earth have ever defined the role like Hiroo Onoda. Hiroo was a Second Lutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army and an officer with military intelligence. In 1944, Hiroo was stationed in the Philippines to conduct guerrilla warfare. Much like everyone else in his position, he was convinced that his role was both glorious and divinely epic.

Hiroo's role was to aid a division of soldiers heavily entrenched on Lubang Island. His orders were "...that under no circumstances was he to surrender or take his own life." He apparently dug in, and prepared for a long and honorable battle for his Emperor. However, reality came along and really messed up Japan's big plans. In early 1945, the Allied forced wiped Japan off of Lubang Island. All but four soldiers were killed, and those four ran for the hills. Among them was Onoda.

Jumping ahead to 1945, Hitler has died from 'shot my own face syndrome,' Japan is now the smoldering ashtray of the Pacific, and Onoda is still diligently fighting on. Locals try to convince him that the war was over, but Onoda is not a run of the mill chump. He and his squad know it's just a ruse. In 1952, reality tried again. Aircraft dropped family pictures and letters from home with pleas to surrender. However, no amount of reality could make a dent in the loyalty of Hiroo Onoda.

By 1954, Onoda had become the equivalent of a tropical Sasquatch. Locals knew he was out in the jungle, but sightings were getting very rare. Anytime someone DID manage to find Onoda, gunshots were involved, the local government continued to try and convince the Japanese soldiers to come down..

Over time, the legend of Onoda grew to epic proportions. Many wondered if he was alive or if the entire story was a myth. He and the three other soldiers faced all the fun of living in a jungle. They survived tropical heat, bugs, rats, extreme weather, not to mention each other's company. The ate banannas, coconuts and had a series of bamboo shelters. Over time, one man died of illness and two others were eventually killed by police. It makes you wonder if Onoda had his own version of "Wilson..." By 1959, the lack of sightings and the passing of time led the government to declare Onoda officially dead. The crazy bigfoot of Lubang passed into memory. However, in late 1972, a surprise shootout by local police with a man dressed in Japanese uniform reminded everyone that the crazy Jap was still out there.

This news eventually caught the attention of a traveling Japanese hippie named Norio Suzuki. After some efforts to communicate, he managed to make pals with Onoda. During a visit to Onoda's secret base, Norio was able to introduce Hiroo's incessant loyalty with reality. He finally got to ask Onoda that nagging question that we all had, "Why won't you come out?" Onoda replied, "My superior told me that he would give me orders when it was time to surrender."

Suzuki returned to Japan with his news. He produced the jungle vacation pictures of he and Onoda chilling on Lubang. This revelation from Norio led to the discovery of Onoda's former commanding officer. Major Yoshimi Taniguchi was now a quiet little bookseller in Tokyo. Japan sent a formal delegation to the Philippines and finally gave Onoda his papers. Back home, the news that Hiroo never surrendered made everyone in Japan feel like a bunch of quitters.

On March 9th, 1974, the last known soldier of WWII turned in his sword and rifle bringing hostilities to an end. Like a Samurai of old, he surrendered his sword to President Ferdinand Marcos...who pretty much gave it right back to him ( this was an act of pardon by President Marco for crimes committed against the Philippine people; Onoda and his team killed over 30 people during their occupation of Lubang ). His rifle was still fully operational, his sword and knives sharp, and his rounds of ammo still clean and usable. In an epic example of "Well why didn't you say so," Onoda returned home to the Japanese version of a proud golf clap. Actually, Japan went a little nuts but still...

Thanks to the efforts of a traveling hippie, World War Two was finally able to come to a complete close. Whatever manhood you think you have, consider the sheer force of unrelenting loyalty of Hiroo Onoda.

This post was written in February of 2013. On January 17, 2014 word got out that Mr. Onoda passed away at the age of 92.

Death of Mr. Onoda

"ALLRIGHT! I'll surrender..."


  1. Pretty amazing story. #respect

  2. How tragic. He must have felt his life was completely wasted after so long. Of course, I'm sure he probably wasn't really right in the head by 1945, much less 1974. War really is hell, on any scale.

  3. What an amazing story. I am amazed at the commitment to the order and the dedication to his responsibilities.