Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Last Order of World War II

Hirō Onoda

Imperial Japanese troops had a fanatical dedication to duty. Combine that with the fact that they often served in very remote locations with no connection to anyone, much less headquarters, and you got some very interesting results.

Hirō Onoda

Hirō Onoda was a fairly ordinary Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer, Second Lieutenant, serving in the Philippines during World War II. Onoda was born on March 19, 1922, in Kamekawa Village, Kaisō District, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. He came from a long line of soldiers, including Samurai.

Hirō Onoda

On December 26, 1944, Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines. His orders were to hamper enemy attacks on the island, including destroying the airstrip and the pier at the harbor. Onoda's orders specified that under no circumstances was he to surrender or take his own life. The Americans invaded on 28 February 1945, and Onoda, now a full Lieutenant, took to the hills with a few other soldiers. His little group wasn't the only one, either, and they always expected to be sought out by Imperial forces. The Japanese Imperial Army had a code not unlike the US Marines - they didn't leave anyone behind. So, Onoda escaped capture and waited for the army to come for him.

Hirō Onoda
Greeting Ferdinand Marcos.

Out of communication with headquarters because they had no radio, and suspicious of any printed material as a trick, Onoda and his little group remained in the hills. One soldier "deserted" in 1949 and gave himself up the following year, but the rest kept at it. Another was shot twice, first in 1953 (in the leg), then again the following year (fatal). This left only Onoda and one companion, Private First Class Kinshichi Kozuka. They continued their guerilla activities such as setting fires and stealing things from the locals.

Hirō Onoda
Onoda with his ceremonial sword, with which he would have committed ritual suicide like so many of his compatriots in the 1940s.

The 1940s turned into the 1950s, which turned into the 1960s, which turned into the 1970s. Onoda and his fellow soldier continued to do their duty to Imperial Japan. They raided locals and had shootouts with the cops. No doubt the locals knew enough to stay out of the hills with "those maniacs up there." People knew who they were due to the defector in 1950, but nobody actually went to find them. Finally, on 16 October 1972, Private Kozuka was shot and killed during a raid. Onoda was alone.

Hirō Onoda

It was the hippie era. Japan had returned to being an economic powerhouse, Richard Nixon - also a World War II soldier - was US President. People think the 1960s were the height of the hippies, but in fact it was the early '70s. A hippie named Suzuki decided he had nothing better to do than go to the Philippines and track down Onoda, who by this time was a sort of mysterious bogeyman of the mountains. Suzuki, with the fearlessness of youth, stumbled upon Onoda after four days - Onoda wasn't difficult to find, but nobody else had had the courage to face the maniac with the guns in the mountains. Suzuki asked Onoda to surrender, but Onoda refused without orders from a superior officer.

Hirō Onoda

Suzuki went back to Japan with photos and convinced the skeptical Japanese army - now a "defense force" - that it had a problem to solve. The defense force tracked down Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had been Onoda's superior officer in 1945. They gave him authority to carry out a special mission and flew him to the island. Guided by Suzuki, Taniguchi tracked down Onoda.

There are two aspects to a military order: it must be issued by a qualified officer to a military subordinate, and it must be presented to the subordinate to be either followed or wilfully disregarded by that subordinate. Major Taniguchi gave his subordinate Lt. Onoda a direct written order:
In accordance with the Imperial command, the Fourteenth Area Army has ceased all combat activity. 
In accordance with military Headquarters Command No. A-2003, the Special Squadron of Staff's Headquarters is relieved of all military duties. 
Units and individuals under the command of Special Squadron are to cease military activities and operations immediately and place themselves under the command of the nearest superior officer. When no officer can be found, they are to communicate with the American or Philippine forces and follow their directives.
This was a valid order issued by the Japanese military through Major Taniguchi. Presented with this order from his superior officer, Onoda obeyed and dutifully surrendered on 9 March 1974.

Hirō Onoda

Onoda returned to Japan to a gracious reception. He died peacefully at home in January 2014.


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