I've been a bit out of touch recently with news.
It came as a sad surprise today when I found out, while doing an internet search for something totally unrelated, that a Japanese man by the name of Hiroo Onoda had died earlier this month at the age of 91.
Hiroo Onoda. He isn't a household name to many Americans, but something he and a handful of other men his age did fascinated me in my childhood and early adulthood.
World War II ended, for most of its combatants, in 1945. But for a number of Japanese soldiers, later called Japanese holdouts, the war never ended. Either they refused to believe it had ended or, because no one had given them orders to the contrary, they refused to surrender.
From time to time, they either finally surrendered - or were shot and killed. I remember the subject of Japanese holdouts came up from time to time in various American TV programs, including the popular show Gilligan's Island.
Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese intelligence officer, had been ordered to spy on American soldiers on the remote island of Lubang, and never to surrender or take his own life. He refused to surrender until 1974. Originally he was with three other men but eventually he was the last one.
He emerged only after his former commander flew from Japan to convince Onoda that the war was over. Later, he formally surrendered to Philippine President Marcos, who pardoned him for his crimes.
Over the years, Onoda and his men, still believing themselves at war and surrounded by enemies, had killed some thirty Filipinos. They raided local villages to survive, stealing food and killing livestock, and sometimes got into fights with the villagers.
Upon his return to Japan, Onoda was hailed as a hero.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this "last of the holdouts" (noting he may not have been the last.) Over the years, I met two people. One was a woman (living in Iowa when I visited my late aunt there) who was a young girl in China during the Japanese occupation and nearly died from starvation. Another, now deceased, was a former American soldier who had survived being a Japanese POW. And, I'm sure the families and friends of those who Onoda and his men killed from 1945 until 1974 were not his biggest fans, either.
On the other hand, we teach about persistence, loyalty and devotion to causes we believe in.
Never give up, we teach our children. Fight for what you believe in, no matter what the odds. How many of us would have done what Onoda did?
In later years, he was quoted as saying “I do everything twice as fast so I can make up for the 30 years. I wish someone could eat and sleep for me so I can work 24 hours
Finally, Onoda is at rest.