Imagine having to stay in a jungle in enemy territory during the biggest war in human history and your mission is to sabotage their operations. Tough enough? Now imagine also being ordered not to surrender or kill yourself even if you are about to be captured. Now that narrows your odds a lot more, doesn't it?
Here comes another twist: what if your country loses or surrenders and you are still behind enemy lines? What would you do then? For a normal person like me, there will be three options: shit my pants, try and escape or surrender.
But Japanese Imperial Army Officer Hiroo Onoda, who was stationed in Philippines with the very same orders, chose a very different route. One of complete courage & badassery!
It was August 9, 1945. An atomic bomb was detonated by the USA over Nagasaki, 3 days after one was dropped over Hiroshima. Two cities & millions of lives reduced to rubble. Japan surrendered a week later, on August 15. World War II had ended.
Hiroo and three others were the only Japanese soldiers left on Lubang Island who hadn't died or surrendered. They found a leaflet in October saying:"The war ended on August 15. Come down from the mountains!"
But Hiroo and his companions thought it was a propaganda by the allies and continued fighting using guerrilla tactics.
One member walked away and surrendered in 1950, while another was shot dead in 1954 by a search party. Onoda and Private Kinsichi Kozuka were the only two left now.
They received family photos from the government, urging them to surrender. But they dismissed all of it, still believing it to be a trick. Surviving on bananas, stolen meat & coconut milk, they soldiered on.
In 1972, Kozuka was shot by the police while they were trying to burn rice collected by the farmers. Onoda was all alone now. But he continued to follow his orders. He had become a legend in Japan & Philippines.
Meanwhile, a Japanese man called Norio Suzuki set out on an adventure around the world looking for - "Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order".
In February of 1974, he actually managed to find Onoda and the two really hit it off. But Onoda refused to come out, insisting that he would only surrender when his superior would order him to.
His superior, Major Taniguchi, had retired a long time ago and had become a bookseller. But Norio arranged for him to fly to Lubang in March, 1974. The retired Major finally met Onoda and lived up to his promise - "Whatever happens we’ll come back for you.", and gave orders to him one final time:
Although he & his companions had killed around 30 people over the years, Hiroo received a full pardon from the then Filipino President, Ferdinand Marcos. And turning over his weapons (guns & sword) to the President, Onoda finally surrendered.
He returned home a hero & was offered a huge amount of money. He refused to take it and donated it to the Yasukuni Shrine. In 1996, he even went back to Lubang & donated US $10,000 to the local school there. What a guy!
And let's not forget Norio Suzuki, who had tracked down Onoda. He managed to find a panda too. But sadly, he died in an avalanche near the Himalayas trying to track down the Abominable Snowman in 1986. His contribution in bringing the war veteran should never be forgotten.
As for Hiroo, he breathed his last on 16th January, 2014. He was 91.