Hiroo was called up to join the army when he was twenty years old. He quit his job and returned to his home in Japan in order to get into physical condition. He was trained for guerilla warfare when chosen to train as an officer at the Imperial Army Intelligence School and in 1944 was sent to the remote island of Lubang in the Philippines to join the Sugi Brigade and ordered to stay alive at all costs. He was not to take his own life and if he only had the one soldier, he was told he had to lead that one. If the war took three years or more, whatever happened they would return for him. If he had to survive on coconuts then that’s what he had to do.
Just a couple of months after Hiroo arrived on Lubang, the allied forces attacked the island and overtook its defenses. The soldiers split into groups and moved further into the jungle with Hiroos’ group consisting of him and four other men. The survived by rationing their rice and supplementing it with coconuts and bananas, occasionally killing a cow.
It was when they were killing a cow that they came across a leaflet that had been dropped from planes, “The war has ended, come down from the mountains!” The group couldn’t understand it, wondering why, if the war had ended were they still being fired at. Over the years, they found newspapers that had been left and letters from relatives. They all pondered over it and decided that it was a clever hoax. One day, Hiroos’ brother spoke to him through a microphone to come out, but Hiroo just thought the Americans were using a look alike to trick him.
The small group suffered from the heat, continuous rains, rats and bugs and any one they saw were suspected of being spies. Over the years, Hiroo lost his soldiers one by one, the last of them being Kozuka who died after being shot aged 51 ending his 27 years in the jungle. Hiroo was the only survivor of his group and was still unaware that the war had ended and people had been searching for them.
News of Kozuka’s death soon reached Japan with the government concluding that if Kozuka had survived all these years, then it was possible that Hiroo could still be alive although he had been declared dead thirteen years earlier. The search for him was refreshed, but Hiroo continued to evade them. In February 1974 Hiroo was tracked down by a Japanese university student dropout Norio Suzuki who left Japan, telling his friends that he was off in search of Lieutenant Onoda, a panda and the abominable snowman in that order.
Hiroo came across Suzuki in a tent and after hours of talking, the two of them became good friends. Suzuki tried convincing Hiroo that the war had ended years ago, but Hiroo explained that he could not surrender until his Commanding Officer ordered him to do so. Suzuki left and promising to return, arranged to meet with Hiroo in two weeks at a prearranged location. He went on his way with photos he had of the two of them together.
At the prearranged time and place, Hiroo found a note that Suzuki had left. Suzuki had returned with Hiroos’ one time superior, Major Taniguchi. When Hiroo met with Taniguchi, he wore what was left of his dress uniform, wearing his sword and carrying his Arisaka rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades. The long since retired Major Taniguchi read aloud the orders, “Japan had lost the war and all combat activity was to cease immediately.”
After a moment for the information to sink in, Hiroo emptied his rifle, laid his pack across it and wept. Hiroo’s long war had ended and he returned to a hero’s welcome back in Japan. Hiroo showed the world that he was exceptional at following orders as he stayed hidden and alive until his surrender aged in 1974, 29 years after the war had ended.
Over the twenty nine years in the jungle, Hiroo and his small group had killed around thirty people and wounded another one hundred unnecessarily, but had done so in the belief that they were still at war. Consequently, President Marcos granted him a full pardon for the committed crimes whilst in hiding. Hiroo received all his back pay from the Japanese government for his twenty nine years on Lubang, but it was very little. He could not adjust to life back home and so after publishing his memoirs, moved on to Brazil as did his brother, for a quiet life raising cattle.
Hiroo returned to Labang in May 1996 and donated $10,000 to a school, then married a Japanese woman in 1976 before moving back to Japan to run a nature camp for kids where Hiroo was able to share his experience about survival. Hiroo showed the world that he was exceptional at following orders as he stayed hidden and alive until his surrender on 1974, 29 years after the war had ended.