Hiroo Onoda, a lieutenent and survivor from WWII, has died. Mr. Onoda died January 16th at the age of 91. He was a Japanese soldier in WWII who hid in the Philippine jungle for 29 years. Under Emperor Hirohito, he was a member of the Japanese Imperial army, and never stopped serving his country.
When the war was over, the Japanese attempted to alert many displaced or lost soldiers that the war was done and that they could come home. This was to no avail for Mr. Hiroo Onoda; he thought it just a lie. Some 29 years later in 1974, he emerged from the jungle with his original uniform, which was ragged and torn.
He became a thief to survive, and with persistent will, never gave up. He and a small group of men stole cattle and bananas and other crops from nearby villagers. Hiroo Onoda was emaciated, but alive when he finally surrendered in 1974. He had remained dutiful with endurance, sacrifice and the ultimate obedience to one’s own culture and country. Almost 30 years later, when he emerged, his country was thriving and materialism had begun to flourish. His mission, he said, was to look to the skies for the bomber planes of the Americans.
The price for this recluse life of loneliness and commitment to one’s country, incredible; words don’t describe the time he lost in his own world in the jungle. He’d been given orders to continue, and even after the Japanese had surrendered, nothing else mattered. By the time he left the Philipine jungle, Richard Nixon was president, skyscrapers existed, and there were TVs; lots of TVs. His parents believed he was dead; they were in their eighties when he finally came home. He said they didn’t get along in his youth, and nothing had changed after 30 years, so he went to Brazil and became a rancher.
He was born in 1922 in Japan in the city of Kainan. Completing high school, he later was drafted into the service. Mr. Onoda, the lieutenent and survivor, graduated from an Intelligence School with the Imperial Army. His assignment was Lubang in 1944. The month was December, three years after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. They intended to invade the Philippines and stayed there for several years. In October of 1944, US General Douglas MacArthur began the surge in the Philippines and by Spring 1945, Manila was free. One soldier surrendered and a few were killed by Philippine police. This only made Mr. Hiroo Onoda, the lieutenant, believe the war still was going on.
Decades passed, his family tried to get him to come out of hiding. They used loud speakers and pamphlets with information. He kept believing they were luring him out to capture him. But then, he aged and it became very hard to survive in the jungle. In February of 1974, he met Norio Suzuki, a Japanese adventurer. Onoda, the lieutenant, asked him why he never heard from his superiors. He was waiting for orders to be relieved of his duties. Norio Suzuki returned to Japan in a quest to find his superior officer and he did. The Major was transported to the island and performed the surrender from years earlier, as per 1945.
Mr. Hiroo Onoda, with regulation rifle, bowed, that yes, the war was over and he was done serving his country. He then proceeded to give all his recognizance material for 29 years on the enemy to the Major.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos received Mr. Hiroo Onoda’s final surrender and pardoned him in Manila. By then he was 52, and with rusted sword, he returned to Japan a hero. As the story broke, thousands welcomed him in Tokyo.
In the latter half of his life he married, had one child and taught wilderness skills at a school to youngsters. They called him “Uncle Jungle.”
The lieutenant and survivor from WWII, Hiroo Onoda, dies at the age of 91. The Prime Minister of Japan, Kakuei Tanaka, scribed a beautiful message in honor of Mr. Onoda. What could one say at the astonishment of years in peril and pervasive, unrecognized service? “The air of a heavenly hero will prove awesome through a thousand autumns.”
By Kim Troike