God Bless Hiroo Onoda, Japan’s Last World War II Holdout



Patulcius-sqHiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who continued to fight World War II on Lubang Island in the Philippines until he was formally relieved in 1974, died yesterday in Tokyo.

Caught in a time warp, Mr. Onoda, a second lieutenant, was one of the war’s last holdouts: a soldier who believed that the emperor was a deity and the war a sacred mission; who survived on bananas and coconuts and sometimes killed villagers he assumed were enemies; who finally went home to the lotus land of paper and wood which turned out to be a futuristic world of skyscrapers, television, jet planes and pollution and atomic destruction.

Japanese history and literature are replete with heroes who have remained loyal to a cause, especially if it is lost or hopeless, and Lieutenant Onoda, a small, wiry man of dignified manner and military bearing, seemed to many like a samurai of old, ultimately offering his sword as a gesture of surrender to President Ferdinand E. Marcos of the Philippines, who returned it to him.

And his homecoming, with roaring crowds, celebratory parades and speeches by public officials, stirred his nation with a pride that many Japanese had found lacking in the postwar years of rising prosperity and materialism. His ordeal of deprivation may have seemed a pointless waste to much of the world, but in Japan it was a moving reminder of the redemptive qualities of duty and perseverance.


He returned to a Japan that he didn’t recognize, one that he ultimately didn’t like.  The old virtues of honor and duty no longer meant anything in materialistic 1970’s Japan, and Onoda emigrated to a Japanese community in Brazil to start a cattle ranch.  After reading about a Japanese boy who killed his parents in 1980, Onoda returned to his homeland in 1984 and started the Onoda Nature School to educate young people in survival.

Even the people of Lubang Island express their condolences.  From ABC News in Australia:

“On behalf of the people of Lubang, we would like to send our condolences and prayers to the family of Mr. Onoda,” said Charles Villas, vice mayor of a municipality on Lubang Island.

When Mr Onoda surrendered, the Philippines government pardoned him for his involvement in the killing of some 30 islanders.

Mr Villas said islanders have forgiven Mr Onoda for the “mistakes” he made while thinking it was still wartime, like the torching of rice granaries and farm tools, and even the killing of some residents.

“What the people of Lubang remember now is how Onoda came to visit in the early 1990s and donated musical organs and school supplies like Japan-made crayons, water colours and pencils to the churches and schools here in Lubang,” Mr Villas said.

“I vividly remember these donations because my mother was a grade school teacher and she was one of the beneficiaries.”

“May he rest in peace.”

“Onoda has become a part of Lubang history,” said Gina Julaton, tourism chief of a Lubang municipality.

She said Lubang developed the Onoda trail and cave as a local tourist attraction in 2010.

“Japanese tourists and students have, in fact, come to Lubang just to experience Onoda’s trail and life while in hiding. They are curious about his life here,” Ms Julaton said.

Such men are all but extinct in today’s world.  Maybe such men have always been rare.

Hiroo Onoda is a true hero.  May God bless his soul.

Leave a comment


  1. I’ve always been fascinated by his story. Truly a bizarre tale, if there ever was one.



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