Survival Hall of Fame: Hiroo Onoda

Hiroo Onoda Relieved of Duty
Hiroo Onoda being relieved of duty.

Some individuals have shown themselves to be exemplary students of survival, surviving adverse circumstances to such an extreme that they will be remembered for a long time.  One of these individuals is Hiroo Onoda.

Hiroo Onoda was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army stationed on Lubang Island in the Philippines at the end of World War 2.  His mission was to hamper enemy efforts to maintain a presence on the island and to not surrender under any circumstances.  Shortly after arriving on the island, the Allied forces attacked, leaving Onoda and 3 others as the only survivors on the island.  These four holdouts hid in the jungle stealing food when they could, scavenging when they couldn’t, and being a general nuisance (as instructed) to those they perceived to be Allied forces or sympathizers.

When the war ended, they still had no way of communicating with their chain of command and continued raiding and sabotaging the local infrastructure to aid the war effort.  Leaflets were left for them by locals and dropped from airplanes to try to get them to surrender, but they decided that it was propaganda and not to be trusted.  One by one, Onoda’s comrades were picked off and by 1972, Hiroo was the only one left.  Think about that for a second.  29 years after being sent to the island (28 years after the Japanese surrendered), this guy is still hiding out in the jungle, not only surviving, but conducting raids and sabotage on the locals in the name of Japan.  Police and the Philippine Army had been looking for them the whole time and never found them.

It took a college dropout in 1974 to finally find Onoda.  Norio Suzuki had decided to travel the world looking for “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order.”  It was less Suzuki finding Onoda and more Onoda finding Suzuki, but they talked a great deal.  Suzuki told Onoda that the war had been over for many years, but Onoda didn’t believe him.  Suzuki offered him a cigarette, a Japanese novel, and some pornography, of which Onoda only took the cigarette.  Onoda confided that he had been given his orders by his superior, Major Taniguchi, and that he would only believe the war was really over if Major Taniguchi were the one to tell him.  Suzuki returned to Japan telling Onoda he would return in two weeks.  Suzuki and Taniguchi returned as promised to find Lieutenant Onoda in his full uniform, carrying a fully functional standard issue rifle with 500 rounds of ammunition, a several hand grenades, and his officers sword.

Taniguchi presented orders to Onoda stating:

  1. In accordance with the Imperial command, the Fourteenth Area Army has ceased all combat activity.
  2. In accordance with military Headquarters Command No. A-2003, the Special Squadron of Staff’s Headquarters is relieved of all military duties.
  3. Units and individuals under the command of Special Squadron are to cease military activities and operations immediately and place themselves under the command of the nearest superior officer. When no officer can be found, they are to communicate with the American or Philippine forces and follow their directives.
This left Onoda relieved of duty (meaning he never actually surrendered).  The Filipino government pardoned Onoda of all his crimes during his time on Lubang Island.  Onoda went back to Japan, wrote an autobiography, and eventually moved to Brazil because he was weary of the “withering virtues” of Japan.  He eventually went back to Lubang Island where he donated $10,000 to the local school.
Hiroo Onoda is the bad ass of bad asses.  Taking on the population of an entire island, burning food supplies, blowing up transport ships, and evading capture for roughly 30 years.  We should all be so well equipped in the same situation.