Op-Ed: Hiroo Onoda — The last Samurai

Posted Jan 17, 2014 by Alexander Baron
The Second World War was and will remain one of the darkest periods of our history, but it produced some astounding heroes; one of the last of whom died yesterday.
Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda photographed around 1944.
Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda photographed around 1944.
Creative Commons
It is widely acknowledged that the Japanese outlook on the world is vastly different from that of the West; the words honour and shame have entirely different meanings there, none more so than for the Japanese warrior. For most Japanese, the Second World War ended with the two terrible atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Hiroo Onoda, it did not end until early 1974 when he was found by a young Japanese man who was looking for "Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the abominable snowman, in that order."
An intelligence officer with the Japanese Imperial Army, he was sent to Lubang Island during the Philippines Campaign with the order to hamper enemy attacks and under no circumstances to surrender or take his own life. He and three others followed those orders faithfully.
The authorities were aware of their presence on the sparsely-populated island in the early 1950s, because one of them surrendered, and the other two were shot and killed, one by a police officer. In 1959, Second Lieutenant Onoda was declared legally dead, then he was found by his young countryman Norio Suzuki. Mr Suzuki never did find that yeti, though he literally died trying; he was killed in a Himalayan avalanche 12 years later. The lost soldier he discovered was finally persuaded to return home to Japan where naturally he received a hero's welcome.
For Second Lieutenant Onoda though, the country of his birth was a different land, and he emigrated to Brazil, although he returned to Japan frequently, where he died yesterday in a Tokyo hospital at the age of 91. He was rightly described by the BBC as the last relic of a bygone age.
Hiroo Onoda: Born Kamekawa, Wakayama, Nippon-koku, March 19, 1922
Died Tokyo, January 16, 2014