Japanese soldier ignored surrender orders and battled on for 30 years after WWII

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A Japanese soldier ordered to "fight to the bitter end" waged a guerrilla campaign in the Philippines for another 30 years after the end of World War II.

Second lieutenant Hiroo Onoda and three colleagues had been told by their commanding officer not to surrender and not to take their own lives on Boxing Day in 1944.

The young intelligence officer honoured the promise, despite VJ Day coming and going, leaflets being dropped telling him the war was over and losing his three comrades in arms.

Thirty Filipinos died at the hands of the accidental Japanese resistance movement, and second lieutenant Onoda only surrendered after his now retired commanding officer ordered him to, writes The Sun.

The incredible story has resurfaced on the 76th anniversary of VJ Day, when the United States forced Japan's surrender from World War II after dropping atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It was all a world away from Mr Onoda who was deep in the Philippine jungle on Lubang Island and unaware of the terrible events unfolding in his homeland.

Onoda explained in 2010: "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."

When US and Filipino forces stormed Lubang in February 1945, nearly all of the Japanese occupiers were killed or had surrendered.

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Onoda, a highly trained survival expert, led his surviving comrades into the mountainous jungle in the island's interior, conducting a guerrilla warfare campaign against the invading forces for his Emperor Hirohito.

Despite his country's loss, he and his fellow stragglers were convinced a surrender order document dropped from the skies by General Tomoyuki Yamashita of the 14th Army was fake – because they were littered with mistakes.

Their war continued, with them surviving on jungle fruit and stolen farm animals, while occasionally killing an "enemy soldier" they believed was disguised as a "farmer or policeman" – 30 of them over their three-decade campaign.

The first of them, Yuichi Akatsu, decided to surrender in 1950 after abandoning his comrades before Shōichi Shimada was shot dead by a search party looking for the men, four years later.

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Kinshichi Kozuka died in 1972 after being shot by local police but Onoda was last man standing and continued to dismiss search parties sporadically sent out to trace him as enemy ploys to dupe him into surrender.

He even dismissed as a hoax a Japanese flag planted in the jungle bearing signatures of his family – and contained a tape-recording of his ageing mother, now 86, pleading: "Please come home while I am alive."

He finally surrendered in 1974 after being found by a Japanese hippy traveller, Norio Suzuki, who said he was looking for "Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order".

Suzuki won Hiroo's trust but refused to leave unless his orders were rescinded. So his commanding officer, by now a bookseller who'd retired from the army, was flown in to formally order him to stand down. His CO had fulfilled his promise from 30 years earlier that "whatever happens, we'll come back for you".

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Onoda gave up his sword, his still-functioning Arisaka rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition, several hand grenades and a dagger from his mum to commit suicide with should he be captured.

Still wearing his old army uniform, kept neatly pressed should any superior officer visit, he walked out of the jungle. He was pardoned by Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos for the 30 islanders he and his comrades killed.

Aged 52 he was flown back to Japan to a hero's welcome and told a press conference he had been "carrying out my orders", after his commanding officer told him in 1944: "It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens we'll come back for you."

Returning home he was horrified by the Japan of 1974 which was much different from the home he left, feeling traditional values had been eroded by consumerism.

After a temporary stint as a cattle rancher in Brazil he returned to a second career running a children's nature camp outside Tokyo. He was to live a further 39 years after emerging out of the jungle and surrendering, dying in Tokyo aged 91.

  • World War 2

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