The date is 1945 and the war in the Pacific is not going well for Japan.
What started out as a campaign of blistering successes that saw the Japanese empire spread
across South East Asia has turned into a fight for its life against the United States.
The words of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto just after the raid on Pearl Harbor now ring in
every Japanese commander's ears, “I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant
and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Pushed back across the Pacific on every front, the situation only worsens for Japan as they
now also face growing Russian forces on the eastern borders of their collapsing empire,
each Russian soldier eager for revenge after suffering humiliating defeats in the decades
prior to World War II.
Yet the Japanese bushido code is clear: there can be no surrender, even in the face of certain
But of all the soldiers in the Japanese army, few would embody the bushido code more than
Hiroo Onoda, who would continue waging World War II for thirty years after its end.
Born on March 19th, 1922, Onoda joined the Japanese Imperial Army when he was 18 years
Onoda was one of a long line of warriors, able to trace his family's fighting ancestry
all the way back to samurai ancestors that took part in the frequent wars that plagued
Japan's feudal history.
His own father had served in the Japanese cavalry and died in the Second Sino-Japanese
Showing an aptitude for outside the box thinking, Onoda was soon training as an intelligence
officer in an elite commando school.
The precursor to modern special forces training, the Nakano School trained troops specialized
in jungle and guerilla warfare, sabotage, counterintelligence, and propaganda- skills
that would come in great use for Onodo in the years to come.
In 1942 Japan had seized the Philippines and overthrown the Filipino government, forcing
the surrender of their US allies.
Just two years later though Japanese forces were spread thin around the South Pacific,
and America, indeed full of terrible resolve, had pushed Japan back on every front.
Now they threatened the Philippines themselves, an important strategic position in the war.
With its proximity to South Pacific sea trade lanes, control of the Philippines would allow
the US to threaten Japan's oil supplies, and if that happened then the rest of the Japanese
fleet had only months of supplies to fight with.
The Philippines must be held at all costs, and so a bloody resistance of the American
By winter of 1944 though most of the Japanese were forced off the major islands and to the
smaller islands that ring the archipelago.
On December 26th, 1944, Onoda was dispatched to Lubang Island and instructed to engage
in a guerilla warfare campaign against invading US troops.
Conventional Japanese military protocol however demanded that Japanese troops face the invaders
head-on, rather than retreat and fight an unconvential war from the shadowy jungles
the way Onoda had been trained and ordered to do.
Upon arriving at the island, Onoda's superior officers refused his previous orders and prevented
him from carrying out his objectives, which was to abandon several fortified defensive
positions and flee to the jungles before launching a series of surprise attacks against a nearby
airfield and pier.
Hopelessly outnumbered and overpowered, the Japanese defensive garrison was utterly defeated
when American forces landed on February 28th 1945.
Seeing that defeat was imminent, Onoda, who was under strict orders to not surrender or
take his own life if defeated, ordered three other soldiers, Private Yuichi Akatsu, Corporal
Shoichi Shimada, and Private First Class Kinshichi Kozuka, to follow him into the jungle and
begin a resistance against the American invaders.
US forces quickly left the island after eliminating the Japanese garrison though, and Onoda began
to engage in guerilla raids against local Filipino troops.
Noticing a lull in the fighting though around October of 1945, and with no way of contacting
any other Japanese unit to learn of Japan's surrender, Onoda assumed that the main course
of the war had shifted elsewhere, but continued his guerilla campaign regardless.
Onoda and his men laid ambushes for local farmers and engaged in shootouts with police
forces in the area, and the US, realizing that there was an active Japanese resistance
still on the island by troops who had no idea the war was over, began to drop leaflets informing
the soldiers of Japan's surrender.
Onoda eventually stumbled across one of these leaflets but immediately assumed that it was
propaganda meant to lure him and his men out so they could be captured.
His training in propaganda techniques only made Onoda more suspicious of the leaflets,
and in his mind he was but one of several Japanese units still fighting behind enemy
Surely Japan had been pushed back- but defeated?
Toward the end of the year though more leaflets were dropped in the jungles of the Philippines,
and this time with official surrender orders signed by General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the
Onoda carefully scrutinized the orders, but once more his propaganda training kicked in
and he surmised that these were fake too.
Moreso however, the idea that the entire Japanese army had surrendered seemed ludicrous to Onoda
and his men, who firmly believed that Japan would fight unto the very last man just as
they were now doing.
For four more years the team of guerillas continued their war against the people of
the Philippines, raiding farms for supplies and attacking police forces and farmers.
The men sabotaged fishing boats and generally engaged in as much destructive activity as
they were capable.
Trained to live off the land, Onoda and his men gathered what fruits they could and stole
rice, grain and other foodstuffs from their raids on local farmers, and continued their
war with a stash of ammunition and grenades that could see four men fight for years to
In 1949 however, Private Akatsu came to the realization that the war was over, and left
the unit to live by himself in the jungle for six months before surrendering to the
Philippine Army on March 1950.
Akatsu let US and Filipino authorities know of the other men still fighting in the jungle,
and the US underwent a campaign to track down family members of the other three holdouts.
Eventually they obtained family photos and letters from relatives all urging the soldiers
to surrender, air dropping the messages across Lubang island in 1952.
Unfortunately, upon discovering the letters and photos, Onoda assumed that the Japanese
homeland had fallen and their loved ones were now living under American occupation and thus
forced to write these letters.
This belief only filled Onoda and his men with greater resolve to continue resisting.
Two years later though Corporal Shimada was shot and killed by a Filipino search party
that was looking for the men, intending to arrest them and bring them to trial for the
murders they had committed.
For another 18 years Onoda would continue his war alongside Private First Class Kinshichi
Kozuka, clashing with police forces and farmers, until in 1972, Kozuka would be killed by police
while raiding a local village.
Onoda was now all alone, and still he refused to surrender.
In 1974 Japanese adventurer Norio Suzuki embarked on a trip around the world.
Lieutenant Onoda had become something of a celebrity in Japan by this point, who had
become entranced by the soldier's refusal to surrender.
As the highlights of Suzuki's trip, he declared that he wanted to see Lieutenant Onoda, a
panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that very order.
In February of that year, Suzuki landed in Lubang island and managed to track down Onoda,
greeting him by saying, “Onoda-san, the Emperor and the people of Japan are worried
Suzuki informed the old soldier that the war had been over for decades, yet Onoda said
that he would not surrender until relieved of duty by a superior officer.
The Japanese government quickly tracked down Onoda's surviving commanding officer, Major
Yoshimi Taniguchi, and flew him to Lubang.
On March 9th, 1974, and 52 years old, Onoda emerged from the jungle still dressed in his
service uniform and carrying his rifle and service sword, accepting the order from his
commanding officer to at last surrender.
Later, he would surrender his sword to the president of the Philippines, who granted
Onoda a pardon for his many crimes.
Upon returning to Japan Onoda was hailed as a hero, yet Onoda was deeply troubled by the
Japan he returned to.
He did not believe that Japan should have apologized for the war in Asia, and he was
utterly dismayed to discover that the military had been dissolved by the Allies.
Uncomfortable with the new, liberal Japan who wanted to distance itself from its war-like
past, Onoda became involved with right-wing politics, calling for Japan to return to its
former military might and become a world power again.
Luckily, nobody paid much attention to Onoda, and unable to accept a peaceful, liberal Japan
not under the thumb of the military, Onoda eventually moved to Brazil in 1975, where
he would spend most of his life.
Onoda's thirty year war was an incredible, if foolhardy, act of dedication.
While initially praised as a national hero and a 'soldier's soldier' by the Japanese
people and admirers around the world, Onoda's return and troubling penchant for authoritarianism
quickly saw him fall out of favor with a population thoroughly sick of war.
In the end, Onoda was a relic of the past who couldn't accept the change that had gripped
the world after the horrors of World War II, change which valued international cooperation
over empire building.
Think you could've lasted in the jungle for thirty years alongside Onoda?
If you enjoyed this video, make sure you watch our other video The Insanely Crazy Story of
a Tiny Soldier.
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