A Japanese soldier in WWII, Hiroo Onoda, held out for 29 years in the jungle of the Philippines, and refused to quit fighting until he was convinced the war was over… in 1974
On December 26th, 1944, Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines. His orders from his commanding officers, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, were simple:
You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts. If that’s the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you [to] give up your life voluntarily.
Onoda first saw a leaflet that claimed the war was over in October 1945. When another cell had killed a cow, they found a leaflet left behind by the islanders which read: “The war ended on August 15. Come down from the mountains!”2 But as they sat in the jungle, the leaflet just didn’t seem to make sense, for another cell had just been fired upon a few days ago. If the war were over, why would they still be under attack? No, they decided, the leaflet must be a clever ruse by the Allied propagandists.
Again, the outside world tried to contact the survivors living on the island by dropping leaflets out of a Boeing B-17 near the end of 1945. Printed on these leaflets was the surrender order from General Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army.
Having already hidden on the island for a year and with the only proof of the end of the war being this leaflet, Onoda and the others scrutinized every letter and every word on this piece of paper. One sentence in particular seemed suspicious, it said that those who surrendered would receive “hygienic succor” and be “hauled” to Japan. Again, they believed this must be an Allied hoax.
Leaflet after leaflet was dropped. Newspapers were left. Photographs and letters from relatives were dropped. Friends and relatives spoke out over loudspeakers. There was always something suspicious, so they never believed that the war had really ended.
Search parties reportedly made contact but could not convince Onoda or his men to lay down their arms.
So for decades, they lived in the jungle in bamboo huts, constantly repairing their ragged uniforms and keeping their rifles cleaned and at the ready. In separate incidents, two of Onoda’s fellow soldiers were killed in brushes with local authorities and the third surrendered after getting lost one day. That left Onoda on his own.
He was officially declared dead in 1959, but in 1974, a Japanese student and adventurer tracked Onoda down. Norio Suzuki reportedly had told friends before he left on his expedition, which included trips to several other countries, that he was looking for “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda and the Abominable Snowman, in that order.”
Onoda still refused to believe the war was over when Suzuki told him, so Suzuki returned home and, with the Japanese government’s help, came back with Major Taniguchi. It wasn’t until the moment Taniguchi told Onoda that the fighting was done that Onoda, by then in his early 50s, finally laid down the rifle he had carried for a majority of his life.