The Man Who Wouldn't Surrender

Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was 22 years old when he was deployed to Lubang Island in the Philippines in December 1944. As an intelligence officer, he was given orders to disrupt and sabotage enemy efforts — and to never surrender or take his own life. Allied forces landed on the island in February 1945, and before long Onoda and three others were the only Japanese soldiers who had not surrendered or died. They retreated into the hills, with plans to continue the fight as guerrillas. The group survived on bananas, coconut milk and stolen cattle while engaging in sporadic shootouts with local police. In late 1945, the group began encountering air-dropped leaflets announcing that the war was over, and ordering all holdouts to surrender. After careful consideration, they dismissed the leaflets as a trick, and fought on. One of Onoda’s companions surrendered in 1950, and another was killed by a search party in 1954. His last companion, Private First Class Kinsichi Kozuka, was shot by police in 1972 as he and Onoda were destroying stores of rice at a local farm. Onoda was left completely alone, by this point a figure of legend on Lubang and beyond. The story of the mysterious holdout caught the attention of a young adventurer named Norio Suzuki, who set out to find Lieutenant Onoda. On February 20, 1974, the two men ran into each other in the jungles of Lubang, and improbably became friends. Suzuki told Onoda that Japan was worried about him, but Onoda firmly replied that he would not surrender unless ordered to by a superior officer. Suzuki returned to Japan, and with the help of the government tracked down Onoda’s commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who was by now an elderly man working in a bookstore. Taniguchi flew to Lubang, and on March 9, 1974, he formally relieved Onoda of his duties, nearly 29 years after the end of the war. from

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