In 1975, the last Japanese soldier fighting World War II surrendered on the Philippine island Lubang.
In 1944, after receiving training on guerilla warfare, intelligence officer Hiroo Onoda was sent to Lubang with the orders to fight until he died in battle. Allied forces landed on February 28, 1945 and conquered the island. Japanese forces split up and headed into the jungle.
Most of these cells were destroyed, but Onoda’s kept on fighting and surviving on what the jungle and raids on local farms gave them. In October, the locals left leaflets telling them the war was over, with a message from General Yamashita ordering them to surrender. The implication was Japan had lost. The soldiers reasoned that Japan couldn’t lose, so it must be a trick. Planes dropped more leaflets with photos and letters from the soldiers’ families. A Japanese delegation even went into the jungle with loudspeakers. Again, the soldiers reasoned they were being tricked.
After five years of this, one of the men surrendered, which prompted the remaining three soldiers to go even deeper into the jungle. After another five years, another soldier was killed. In 1972, another, leaving Onoda alone.
In 1974, Nario Suzuki, a college student, traveled the world with a bucket list that included finding Onoda, a panda and the Abominable Snowman. He succeeded and tried to convince Onoda to come home but failed. His return to Japan caused a sensation, and Onoda’s commanding officer went to the island to personally order him to surrender.
Onoda was crushed at hearing of the surrender. He couldn’t believe Japan had lost. He thought he’d been doing his duty for 29 years, during which time he’d participated in the killing of 30 Filipinos and the injuring of more than 100 others, not to mention the destruction of property.
On March 10, 1975, Onoda, now 52, marched out of the jungle in full uniform, still in good condition, and surrendered his samurai sword to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos pardoned Onoda and allowed him to go home.
He wrote a book about his experiences: NO SURRENDER: MY THIRTY-YEAR WAR (which failed to mention his killing of Filipinos), which earned him fame. He didn’t like the attention, however, so he went to Brazil and raised cattle for a number of years before returning to Japan. In 1996, he revisited Lubang and donated $10,000 to a local school. Whether he was ultimately a hero or villain is up to you to decide.
Learn more about this soldier’s extraordinary story here.