World War 2: Japans last soldier surrendered 29 YEARS after war ended
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Today, April 28, marks the 70th anniversary of the legal ending of the state of war in Japan. The Treaty of San Francisco was signed on September 8, 1951 but did not come into force until seven months later. Otherwise known as the Treaty of Peace with Japan, it helped re-establish peaceful relations between Japan and the Allied Powers on behalf of the United Nations. Signed by 48 nations, it formally ended Japan’s position as an imperial power, handed compensation to those who had suffered at the hands of Japan during World War 2, and signalled an end to the Allied post-war occupation of Japan.
Though Japan formally surrendered on September 2, 1945, isolated soldiers and personnel from Japanese forces refused to surrender for many months and years afterwards.
A new film tells the story of Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier stationed on an island in the Philippines in 1944, and remained there until 1974 because he did not believe the war had finished.
Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle is a three-hour film telling the story of the last Japanese soldier to surrender.
He was conscripted into the Japanese in 1942, and selected for guerrilla combat training. It was this training that stopped him taking his own life, he later recalled in his 1974 memoir.
He wrote: “You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand.
“Under no circumstances are you to give up your life voluntarily.”
Japan invaded the Philippines in 1941 and the islands became the scene of heavy fighting at the end of the war as far-flung Japanese soldiers fought US troops across the thousands of remote islands.
Mr Onoda was stationed on Lubang, an island 90 miles south-west of the Philippine capital of Manila in December 1944.
He was tasked with destroying the airfield and a pier by the harbour, as well as any enemy forces which attempted to reach the island.
They failed, however, and retreated into the jungle as US forces descended onto them.
While most surrendered, Mr Onoda and three other soldiers refused to surrender and remained in the jungle.
For soldiers in the Japanese Imperial Army, death was a preferable option to surrender.
Mr Onoda later recalled: “Every Japanese soldier was prepared for death, but as an intelligence officer I was ordered to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die.
“I became an officer and I received an order. If I could not carry it out, I would feel shame. I am very competitive.”
A number of attempts were made to find Mr Onoda, including family members appealing to him over loudspeakers, and flights dropping leaflets encouraging him to give himself up.
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Mr Onoda and his colleagues dismissed the leaflets, which detailed the Japanese surrender, as fake.
The foursome survived by eating dried banana skins, coconuts and stolen rice, and Mr Onoda shot cows to make dried beef on occasion too.
The group heard planes flying overhead during the Korean war in the early Fifties, and assumed they were some form of Japanese counter-offensive.
Mr Onoda recalled in his memoir that he and comrade Kinshichi Kozuka had “developed so many fixed ideas that we were unable to understand anything that did not conform to them”.
Rescue attempts were abandoned in 1959, and the Japanese government declared him dead.
In reality, he and Mr Kozuka remained.
One of their other colleagues had left the jungle in 1950, and another died. Mr Kozuka was killed by the local police in October 1972, leaving Mr Onoda alone on the island.
On February 20, 1974, he met young globetrotter Norio Suzuki, who had travelled to the island in an attempt to find Mr Onoda.
After a while, Mr Onoda contacted him with a simple “Oi” and the pair began talking.
Eventually, they agreed Mr Onoda would lay down his arms if his former commanding officer directly ordered him to do so.
Weeks later, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi ventured to Lubang, and Mr Onoda’s war came to an end on March 9, 1974.
He struggled to adapt to life upon returning to Japan, and emigrated to Brazil in 1975 to become a farmer, before returning to his homeland in 1984.
He died in 2014, aged 94.
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