Well you may not recognise the name but I am sure that those of you of a certain age will remember why he became famous in 1974.
He was a wartime Japanese officer who surrendered only in 1974, having hunkered down in the jungles of the Philippines for nearly three decades in defiant honour of the Imperial Army.
His exile on Lubang Island, 93 miles south west of Manila, was a rebellious response to the American invasion in February 1945. Onoda, who was a young Intelligence lieutenant at the time, had taken literally his final order to stay and fight. Most of the island’s Japanese troops either withdrew or surrendered, yet, along with other splinter groups, Onoda went into hiding in the mountains.
For the next 29 years he survived on a diet of rice, coconuts and meat (from cattle slaughtered during farm raids), and he tormented the Filipino forces on his trail. Onoda maintained his rifle, ammunition and sword in impeccable order and when finally discovered — still wearing his, now tattered, army uniform — stated that his mind had been on “nothing but accomplishing my duty”. As one of the last of the “Znryu nipponhei” (or “Japanese Holdouts”), he was greeted as a hero on his return to Japan — a country which he was shocked to find had changed beyond recognition.
He was finally located in 1974 through the efforts of Norio Suzuki, a Japanese student with aspirations to be an explorer. Suzuki had read of the killing of Kozuka and concluded that he wanted to search for “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order”. Where the Philippines’ police and military had failed, Suzuki succeeded in four days.
The encounter was as dramatic as that between Stanley and Livingstone. Onoda set his rifle on the young adventurer but was assuaged by the young man’s calm approach. “Onoda-san,” said Suzuki, “the Emperor and the people of Japan are worried about you.” It was an effective opening. “This hippie boy Suzuki came to the island to listen to the feelings of a Japanese soldier,” recalled Onoda. He would not surrender, however, until he had a direct order from his commanding officer. The following month Suzuki returned with Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, by then a bookseller. Taniguchi assured Onoda that the Imperial command has ceased all combat activity and he should lay down his arms.
Onoda accordingly presented his ceremonial sword to President Marcos, who in turn granted him a pardon for his guerilla activities and handed the weapon back.
On his return to Japan, Onoda was feted, and briefly tipped to run for the Diet, the Japanese bicameral parliament. Fiscal rewards also materialized through a military pension and publication of his best selling memoirs, No Surrender: My Thirty Year War (1974).
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