• Rose

Winner goes to Hiroo Onoda for the longest game of hide and seek during WWII- 29 years!

I usually only post once a week, but this story came across my feed and I had to look into it! I really think to better appreciate the story that I am about to share, we need to recap some fundamentals of WWII.

Quick recap of WWII by Rosie: WWII was fought between two groups of countries, the major Allies powers were France, Russia, China, and the U.S., and the Axis major powers were Germany, Italy, and Japan. There were actually 30 countries involved in this costly war, and at some point I will go into their story of the war.

So Americans ideas of democracy, freedom, and foreign policy at this point was shaped by two recent events- The Great Depression and WWI. After WWI's conclusion it is easy to say that we did not want to have a second round especially when we came out of it stronger as a patriotic country, but a lot of our fellow country men died for not much change. The Treaty of Versailles was important for Europe but it didn't 'fix' anything- they were still fighting like a angry couple at divorce court. And the League of Nations was a wonderful idea that Woodrow Wilson proposed in 1920 whose mission was to maintain world peace, but then we declined the invitation to join the party. Makes sense? America did sponsor a bunch of arms reduction negotiations like a policy that would limit the number of war ships that a country could have at any given time- like that was going to have a warm welcome of acceptance. HA. There was the Good Neighbor policy with Latin America where we as a country would be less intrusive in Latin America, and we did remove service members from the Dominican Republic and Haiti; however, governmentally we still supported dictators such as Somoza in Nicaragua and Batista in Cuba. I am not sure that our government was in complete understanding of what the definition of 'Good Neighbor' meant.

During the 1930's, we watched from the nose bleed section of the stadium Japan invading China, Italy invading Ethiopia, and then the installment of Hitler in Germany and Franco in Spain who were two very powerful dictators. Congress did decide to get slightly involved in protecting our country by passing a bunch of Neutrality Acts that stated that we could not sell guns to bad guys. While we were trying to mimic our good friend Switzerland, we were generally only neutral on the playing field if the team members were wearing a European uniform.

We have to pause here for one second, now while we were not officially involved in WWII for the first couple of years- FDR did want to show support to the Allies, mostly England, who unfortunately was the only team members on the field because France surrendered to Germany in 1940. Imagine a boxing match with the Axis powers fully gloved up and in the best shape of their lives, but the Allies with one arm tied behind their back and blindfolded. It was a unfair fight. In 1941, the Russians did join in- they could never turn down a good battle. So in 1940, FDR announced that if the Allies needed guns or equipment- bring the cash to the table, pick them up yourselves, and you can have them. Then FDR and Congress did something that perked the interest of the country and the world- it started the nations first peacetime draft. Now, why would we be building a military force if we didn't plan on getting involved? Lets break this down- we are giving weapons to the Allies, we started the Lend Lease Act giving billions of dollars worth of equipment (this was considered a loan) to the Allies, we started a peacetime draft, and then we froze Japanese assets and trade? The writing was on the wall, we only needed a push to really suit up to join the game. I don't need to go into the events of Dec 7, 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor but it did sound the bugle cry and we came running out of the game tunnel onto the field.

Now, interestingly everyone automatically thinks this was a European based war for Americans, but it really wasn't because until 1944 there were more service members deployed to the Pacific then to Europe. And our first interactions with the Nazi's didn't happen on European soil, it was actually in North Africa in 1942. It was not a pretty picture for us in the beginning of the Pacific side of the war, adding salt to the wound of Pearl Harbor was the surrender of 78,000 Americans and Filipinos at Bataan. This was the largest surrender by Americans in history and the end result was thousands dying on the Bataan Death March and even more in POW camps that they were led too. Now, that is horrible but we did get some glancing of good news when we protected Australia from Japan in May 1942 at the Battle of the Coral Sea and then in June winning at Midway Island.

So how does this all fit in with the story of Hiroo Onoda? I am getting there- the American strategy for winning the Pacific side of the war was what we can call 'Island Hopping'. It was a slow process of taking over various islands, creeping our way closure to Japan so that we could launch a attack. Hiroo Onoda was a Japanese Intelligence Officer who was sent to the Lubang Island in the Philippines just a few months before the Americans retook the Philippines. Now, the last instructions that Onoda and his fellow 3 soldiers received was to go into the interior of the small and unimportant island and annoy the Allied troops until the Japanese Army took back over. The order actually stated "It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we'll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him." Seems quiet clear- fight until I come back for you. But.......... the Japanese never came back for them!

Onoda faithfully followed his orders carrying out attacks and several shootouts with the local police. The small group did get a leaflet announcing that Japan had surrendered and that Tomoyuki Yamashita of the 14th Area Army ordered them to surrender, and a another note that stated "The war ended on August 15. Come down from the mountain!" But they didn't believe that Japan would surrendered or that their comrades wouldn't come tell them in person, so they dismissed the notes. In 1952, family pictures and letters were air dropped into the area, but the dedicated soldiers refused to believe that it was genuine. By 1972, Onoda was alone on the island continuing his mission- 1 had turned himself in to the Filipino's in 1949, another killed by a search party looking for them in 1954, and the last one dyeing by local police in October 1972.

Leaflet airdropped by the US informing Japanese troops of the surrender

In 1974, Norio Suzuki was traveling around the world looking for 'Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order' according to website rarehistoricalphotos.com . Suzuki searched for four days and finally found Onoda but was unable to convince him to surrender and come off the island. It would only happen if Onoda got orders from a superior officer. Now, the story gets good- the Japanese government was given proof that they had a soldier still fighting for their cause, so they had to hunt down his commanding officer who had retired and working in a book store. Finally, the commanding officer made good of his promise of 'whatever happens, we'll come back for you'. He was only 29 years late. I guess this puts new meaning to the phrase 'better late than never'.

Onoda was granted a Pardon by the Philippine President for the 30 people he killed during his active campaign on the small island, and while the Japanese government offered him money he ended up moving to Brazil and buying a ranch. He returned to Japan in 1980 after his parents were murdered by a teenager and started the Onoda Nature School that trained young people on survival training (something he had proved himself capable of doing very well) and had various locations across Japan.

The adventurer that found Onoda did find the panda and claimed that he saw a yeti in 1975 in the Himalayas. In 1986 he went back to find the yeti and died in a avalanche. His remains were not discovered until a year later and he was returned to his family according to mysteriesunsolved.com

Hiroo Onoda died Jan 16, 2014 as a respected soldier in Japan and world wide. Anyone who has that much commitment to a cause and respect for orders deserves to be remember.

Books for further research:

No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War by Hiroo Onoday, Charles S. Terry (Translator)

NO Surrender!: Seven Hapanese WWII Soldiers Who Refused to Surrender After the War by William Webb







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