For most, World War II spanned from September 1st, 1939 to September 2nd, 1945, starting when Adolph Hitler made the decision to invade Poland. It all spiraled from there, with Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declaring war against the German Reich. The war was lengthy and destructive, ending with the surrender of the Japanese aboard the Battleship Missouri. Though this is the course of history most of us follow, there were a few, like Hiroo Onoda, who was so far removed from communication and reality that, for 29 years, the war waged on.
Hiroo Onoda’s 30-Year War
For 29 years after the war’s conclusion, Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda remained convinced that the war was still being waged. It wasn’t a sense of national pride that kept him fighting, however, but a complete lack of communication.
Almost a year before the war ended, Onoda was stationed in the Philippines on Lubang Island. According to Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, Lt. Onoda’s orders were to remain alive on the island for as long as he could until he was rescued. With a small Japanese force, he was to overtake the Allied harbor and airfield, a task he would fail at as many of his fellow officers refused to help. The remaining forces were split up into multiple groups.
After the war ended, Onoda and his men continued their guerrilla tactics and hoarded supplies when possible. Leaflets were dropped over the island, carrying a message from General Yamashita that the war had ended and the order to surrender. The authenticity of the messages was questioned and they were ultimately ignored. The messages became more elaborate, with Japanese delegates even driving through the island’s forests announcing the end of the war over a loudspeaker, but still Onoda refused to believe it. Five years after the war ended, only Onoda and one other soldier were left, the rest having either surrendered or been killed in skirmishes.
Twenty-seven years after the war ended, Onoda’s fellow soldier, Kinshichi Kozuka, was killed. For years after, Onoda became a legend across the Philippine island. Locals had assumed he’d died years before, but in 1974, a Japanese college student on a tour of the world thought to stop on the island and find the missing soldier. What many others had failed to do, the young Nario Suzuki succeeded. Although he wasn’t able to convince Onoda that the war was over, he did succeed in getting word that Onoda had been found to the now-retired Major Taniguchi.
The old major personally traveled to Onoda’s location to relay the devastating news that the war was over and had been for almost 30 years. The news both angered and shocked the old soldier, who had engaged and killed 30 Filipinos, injured 100 others, and laid waste to crops over the past 29 years. Despite what ended up being 29 years of senseless violence, Onoda eventually surrendered and was pardoned by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.