On December 17, 1944, the Japanese army sent a twenty-three year old soldier named Hiroo Onoda to the Philippines to join the Sugi Brigade. He was stationed on the small island of Lubang, approximately seventy-five miles southwest of Manila in the Philippines, and his orders were to lead the Lubang Garrison in guerrilla warfare.
As Onoda was departing to begin his mission, his division commander told him, “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.” It turns out that Onoda was exceptionally good at following orders, and it would be 29 years before he finally laid down his arms and surrendered.
He returned to a hero’s welcome in Japan, but found himself unable to adjust to modern life there. He received back pay from the Japanese government for his twenty-nine years on Lubang, but it amounted to very little. He recorded his story as a memoir, entitled “No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War“, then moved to Brazil for a calm life of raising cattle on a ranch.
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