40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended

Khalid Elhassan - January 3, 2019

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
Captured Japanese soldiers. History 101

12. Japan’s Most Famous Holdout Was a Trained Commando

In 1944, lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was sent on a reconnaissance mission to the island of Lubang in the western Philippines. A 22-year-old intelligence officer, specially trained as a commando, Onoda was ordered to spy on American forces and conduct guerrilla operations. He was ordered to never surrender, but also expressly ordered that, under no circumstances, was he authorized to take his own life. When American forces eventually captured Lubang, Onoda and three other soldiers took to the hills, where they were cut off from communications with their chain of command, and thus did not receive official word of Japan’s surrender.

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
Rugged terrain of Lubang, in which Hiroo Onoda and his men hid. Philippine Daily Inquirer

11. Onoda and His Men Kept Fighting After Lubang Fell

Lieutenant Onoda’s last instructions were to fight to the death, and absent countermanding orders, he determined to do just that. For nearly three decades, he survived with his tiny command in the dense thickets of Lubang. They erected bamboo huts and eked a living by hunting and gathering in the island’s jungle, stealing rice and other food from local farmers, and killing the occasional cow for meat. Tormented by heat and mosquitoes, rats and rain, Onoda’s band patched their increasingly threadbare uniforms and kept their weapons in working order.

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
Lubang Island. Trip the Islands

10. Onoda’s and His Men Dismissed All Evidence of Japan’s Surrender as “Fake News”

Over the years, Onoda and his men came across numerous leaflets announcing that the war had ended. Like other holdouts, they dismissed them as ruses of war and enemy propaganda. When they encountered a leaflet with a copy of an official surrender order, they examined it closely to determine whether it was genuine, then dismissed it as a forgery. It was not. Even when they recovered airdropped letters and pictures from their own families urging them to surrender, Onoda’s band convinced themselves that it was a trick.

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
The Japanese hippie backpacker who found Hiroo Onoda, posing with the holdout and his rifle in February of 1972. Rare Historical Photos

9. Onoda Kept Going, Even After Losing All His Comrades

Onoda’s tiny contingent steadily dwindled over the years. In 1949, one of them simply left the group, wandered alone around Lubang for six months, and eventually surrendered. Another was killed by a search party in 1954. Onoda’s last companion was shot dead by police in 1972, who came upon the duo as they were trying to burn the rice stores of local farmers. Onoda was thus finally alone. Yet he kept on fighting, doggedly conducting a one-man war.

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
Hiroo Onoda surrendering his sword to Ferdinand Marcos, president of the Philippines. All That is Interesting

8. Onoda Finally Surrendered in 1974

In 1974, a Japanese hippie backpacker stumbled across Onoda, and convinced him that the war had ended decades earlier. He still refused to surrender, however, without orders from a superior officer. The holdout’s new friend contacted the Japanese government, which tracked down his former commanding officer. Traveling to Lubang, Onoda’s wartime commander personally informed him that the war was over, that he was released from military duty, and ordered him to stand down. Clad in his threadbare uniform, lieutenant Onoda handed in his sword and other weapons to representatives of the US and Filipino military, and finally brought his private war to an end, nearly three decades after WWII had ended.

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
1972 search party for Hiroo Onoda. Observer

7. While Lauded in Japan, Onoda Was Reviled in His Philippine Stomping Ground

Hiroo Onoda returned to adulation in Japan. However, back in Lubang, the locals did not see him as an honorable man devoted to duty, but as a bloody-minded idiot who had plagued them throughout his 29-year holdout. He had stolen, destroyed, and sabotaged their property, and killed about 30 local farmers and cops while “requisitioning” food and supplies to fight a war that had ended decades earlier. And a war that he knew or should have known was over, making the subsequent deaths little more than criminal homicides by a maniac. He was pardoned by the Philippines’ president.

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
Hiroo Onoda in later years, as a rancher in Brazil. Observer

6. Onoda Was Never Held to Account For the Dozens of Civilians Killed During His Holdout

Hiroo Onoda was never held accountable for the dozens of innocents killed during his holdout. Rather than ending his days in jail or on the gallows, he got to live a comfortable and long life, showered by accolades. A militarist through and through, who believed that the war had been a sacred mission, Onoda was unable to fit in the pacifist Japan to which he returned. The culture and country had simply grown unrecognizable to him. Within a year of returning to Japan, Onoda emigrated to Brazil, bought a cattle ranch, married, and raised family. He died in 2014, aged 91.

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
Invasion fleet landing Allied troops on Morotai Island. Wikimedia

5. Japan’s Longest Holdout Was Teruo Nakamura

“The last of the last” Japanese holdouts was Teruo Nakamura, who outlasted the more famous Hiroo Onoda by a few months. Born in 1919 into an aboriginal tribe in Formosa, today’s Taiwan, which was a Japanese possession at the time, Nakamura was conscripted into a colonial unit, and posted to Morotai Island in today’s Indonesia, in 1944. American and Australian forces invaded the island soon after his arrival, and captured it, while inflicting heavy losses on the Japanese defenders. Nakamura was among the few Japanese survivors, and he fled into the jungle.

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
Morotai Island. Getty Images

4. Teruo Nakamura Was Well Suited to Hiding in the Jungle

By the time Japan surrendered, Nakamura and his remaining comrades were deep in Morotai’s jungle, cut off from communications with their chain of command, with no means of receiving official notice of war’s end. Like other holdouts, they dismissed airdropped leaflets, advising of war’s end, as fake news and enemy propaganda. Nakamura stayed with his steadily dwindling group until 1956, when he set off on his own and built himself a hut inside a small field that he hacked out of the rainforest, and in which he grew tubers and bananas to supplement his diet. His aboriginal tribal upbringing made him particularly self-sufficient and capable of surviving in the wilds.

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
Teruo Nakamura. Alchetron

3. Teruo Nakamura Held Out Until December of 1974

Nakamura stayed hidden in the jungles of Morotai Island, isolated and alone, until a pilot spotted and reported his hut in mid-1974. That led the Japanese embassy to request the Indonesian military’s help in tracking him down, which it did, launching a search expedition later that year. Indonesian soldiers finally located and captured an emaciated Nakamura on December 18th, 1974, and flew him to Jakarta, where he received his first medical care in three decades.

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
Takasago Volunteers, Teruo Nakamura’s colonial unit. Wikimedia

2. Teruo Nakamura’s Holdout Earned Him No Love From the Japanese

In contrast to Hiroo Onoda whose holdout had ended a few months earlier, and who was lionized and celebrated as a paragon of conscientious devotion to duty, Nakamura garnered relatively little attention in Japan. Onoda was an ethnic Japanese citizen, while Nakamura had been a colonial soldier from what by 1974 had become the independent nation of Taiwan. Although he expressed a wish to be repatriated to Japan, Nakamura had no legal right to go there, and so was sent to Taiwan instead.

40 Facts About the Japanese Who Refused to Surrender After WWII Had Ended
Teruo Nakamura. Mike Dash History

1. Japan’s Longest Holdout Died Unappreciated and In Poverty

Teruo Nakamura, had not been a member of the Imperial Japanese Army, but of a colonial unit. Under Japanese law, that meant he was not entitled to back pay or a pension or any of the benefits afforded IJA soldiers. While Hiroo Onoda had been awarded about U$160,000 by Japan, equivalent to nearly U$900,000 in 2018 dollars, Nakamura was awarded only U$227 – equivalent to about U$1250 in 2018 – for his three-decades-long holdout in service to Japan. Teuro Nakamura returned to Taiwan, where he died of lung cancer five years later, in 1979.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Guardian, The, May 28th, 2005 – 60 Years After the War Ends, Two Soldiers Emerge From the Jungle

YourStory –This soldier kept fighting WWII 29 years after it ended

How Stuff Works – Japanese Holdouts

Mike Dash History – Final Straggler: The Japanese Soldier Who Outlasted Hiroo Onoda

Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 10th, 2014 – Hiroo Onoda: Hero, or Villain?

BBC News, 17 January 2014 – Japan WW2 soldier who refused to surrender Hiroo Onoda

Wanpela – Lt Ei Yamaguchi

Warfare History Network – Operation Removal: Taking the Japanese Holdouts Near Saipan

Wikipedia – Japanese Holdout

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