Japanese Soldier Refuses to Surrender for 29 Years After WWII

Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier, ignored leaflets announcing Japan’s surrender during WWII, thinking it was a trick.

The period of World War II offers some of history’s most fascinating stories, showcasing both humanity’s worst and best moments. The war produced many interesting characters and tales, including that of Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda of the Imperial Japanese Army Intelligence Corps.

Mission Brief and Deployment

Born in 1922, Hiroo Onoda joined the Imperial Japanese Army Infantry at age 18 and trained as an intelligence officer. In December 1944, he was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines with orders to disrupt enemy attacks on the island. His commanding officer forbade him from surrendering or dying by his own hand, promising to return for him. Onoda landed on the island, but the officers there outranked him and denied him permission to carry out his mission. As a result, the Allied forces easily took the island, and Onoda and three other soldiers fled into the hills.

The Mission Begins as the War Ends

After the main Japanese forces were defeated, Onoda and his crew carried out guerrilla warfare and engaged in shootouts with local police. In October 1945, they saw a leaflet announcing Japan’s surrender, but Onoda distrusted it. They continued to believe the war was ongoing and refused to surrender. In late 1945, leaflets were airdropped on Lubang Island with a surrender order, but Onoda and his crew continued to evade capture until 1974, when Onoda finally surrendered after 29 years of hiding and fighting.

The group had been in hiding for more than a year and, after closely examining the leaflet, they concluded it was a fake and chose not to surrender. Unaware of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the group believed that it was highly unlikely that Japan would surrender.

The campaign of mistrust went on for a long time. In 1949, one of Onoda’s three men, Private Yuichi Akatsu, left the group and surrendered to Filipino forces six months later in 1950. This caused the remaining soldiers to become even more cautious and paranoid. In 1952, the search parameters were widened and aircraft air-dropped letters and family pictures urging the soldiers to surrender, but the three soldiers were convinced that it was a trick. In June of 1953, one of Onoda’s men, Corporal Shoichi Shimada was shot in the leg during a shoot-out with local fishermen, whom he assumed were enemy soldiers in disguise, but was later nursed back to health by Onoda. However, in May 1954, Shimada was shot and killed by a search party after he opened fire on his potential rescuers. Onoda and his one remaining man, Private First Class Kinshichi Kozuka, continued their campaign of terrorizing the locals until 1972. In 1972 Kozuka was shot and killed as he and Onoda burnt a rice stockpile belonging to a farmer they suspected of being in league with the “enemy” who no longer existed.

This left just Onoda carrying out his mission until 1974 when a Japanese explorer, Norio Suzuki, found him. Suzuki had been traveling the world, searching for “Lieutenant Onoda, a wild panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order.” After locating the fabled Japanese soldier, clad in the tattered rags of his Imperial Japanese Army uniform, the two became friends. However, Onoda still refused to surrender. So Suzuki, having heard Onoda’s story from the man himself, located his former Commanding Officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi. Fulfilling his promise from decades ago, the former Major ended Onoda’s orders in person. Onoda saluted the Japanese flag, then handed the Major his katana, his still-functioning Arisaka Type 99 rifle, several rounds of ammo, some hand grenades, and his family dagger. Despite being responsible for the deaths of over 30 innocent people during his campaign, Onoda was granted an official pardon by the Filipino government as he believed the war was still ongoing.

Upon returning to Japan, Onoda became an overnight celebrity, but he found it very challenging to adjust to life in a vastly different country from the one he left years ago. He wrote and published an autobiography in 1975 before leaving Japan for Brazil, where he became a cattle farmer and later opened a series of survival training schools in Japan. In an interview near the end of his life, Hiroo Onoda said, “Every Japanese soldier was prepared for death. But as an Intelligence Officer, I was ordered to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die. I became an officer, and I received an order. If I could not carry it out, I would feel shame. I am very competitive.”

Passing of Hiroo Onoda

Hiroo Onoda departed peacefully in the year 2010, at the age of 91.


1. Who was the Japanese soldier who surrendered 29 years after WWII ended?

His name was Hiroo Onoda. He was a Japanese intelligence officer who was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines in 1944. His mission was to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Allied forces.

2. Why did Hiroo Onoda refuse to surrender?

Onoda was following orders from his superior officer, who told him to never surrender and to continue fighting until he received further orders. He believed that the war was still ongoing, even though it had ended in 1945.

3. How did Hiroo Onoda survive for 29 years in the jungle?

Onoda survived by living in the jungle and eating food that he found or stole from local farmers. He also had a small team of soldiers who stayed with him for a few years, but they eventually left or died. Onoda continued to hide in the jungle and avoid contact with other people for almost three decades.

4. When did Hiroo Onoda finally surrender?

Onoda surrendered on March 9, 1974, after a young adventurer named Norio Suzuki found him in the jungle and convinced him that the war had ended. Onoda finally agreed to lay down his arms and return to Japan, where he was hailed as a hero by many people.

5. What was the reaction in Japan and the world to Hiroo Onoda’s surrender?

Many people in Japan were amazed and inspired by Onoda’s dedication and loyalty to his country. Some saw him as a symbol of Japan’s samurai spirit and warrior culture. The news of his surrender also made headlines around the world, and many people were fascinated by his story of survival and perseverance.

6. Did Hiroo Onoda face any consequences for his actions?

No, Onoda was not punished for his actions. Instead, he was treated as a hero and received a pension from the Japanese government. He also wrote a book about his experiences and became a popular speaker in Japan and around the world.

7. What can we learn from Hiroo Onoda’s story?

Onoda’s story teaches us about the power of loyalty, perseverance, and determination. It also shows us the dangers of blindly following orders and the importance of questioning authority. Onoda’s story has inspired many people to overcome difficult challenges and to never give up on their goals.

8. Has there been anyone else like Hiroo Onoda?

There have been other soldiers and guerrilla fighters who have refused to surrender long after wars have ended. However, Onoda’s story is unique in its duration and the circumstances surrounding his survival.

9. What happened to Hiroo Onoda after he returned to Japan?

Onoda lived a quiet life after his return to Japan. He married and started a family, but he remained something of a celebrity and continued to make public appearances and give speeches. He passed away in 2014 at the age of 91.

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