World War II ended for Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda of the Japanese Imperial Army on
March 9th, 1974. That was the day on which he walked out of the jungles of Lubang Island in the
Philippines and received his orders from his military superiors to cease all military action.
For the rest of the world the war had ended almost thirty years earlier. "No Surrender - My
Thirty-Year War" tells the story of Lt. Onoda and a small band of Japanese soldiers as they fought
off American patrols, Lubang islanders, and Filipino police for thirty years.
Written by Lt. Onoda himself, the book gives a firsthand account of the trials and tribulations this small
band of Japanese soldiers went through. Hollywood could not have invented a more outlandish script
and yet the events this book describes are absolutely true.
The author gives a brief account of his background and upbringing. Onoda was born in the
town of Kainan in Wakayama province in 1922. As a boy he excelled at the traditional form of
Japanese fencing known as "kendo". His two older brothers were already serving in the Japanese
Army, when in 1939 he joined a Japanese trading company. He was sent to Hankow, China to work for
the firm. In 1942 he was drafted into the Japanese Army and sent to serve in
As it turned out, his older brother Tadao, who was already an officer, was also serving in
the same city. His brother managed to pull a few strings and get Hiroo into officer training
school. In the summer of 1944 Onoda finished his officer training and was assigned to receive
additional training in guerilla warfare. By this time the war was going rather badly for Japan and
a course which was designed originally to take two years was completed in three months.
On December 17th, 1944 Lt. Onoda was ordered to the Philippines. He arrived in Manila the
following week whereupon he received his orders from Lt. General Yokoyama.
Onoda was to be sent to Lubang Island located about 30 kilometers off the northwest tip of Mindoro Island.
He was instructed to organize the guerilla resistance in the eventuality of an American invasion.
Onoda received a general briefing of the situation on Lubang by Major Taniguchi, who provided him an
aerial map of the island. He was instructed to blow up the pier and destroy the airfield so that
the Americans couldn't use it.
By this time the Japanese situation in the Philippines was deteriorating fast.
The Americans had landed at Leyte in October 1944 and they were now threatening Manila itself.
American warplanes were now routinely attacking Japanese positions in Luzon.
In order to impress on him the seriousness of the situation Gen. Yokoyama gave Onoda these
instructions: "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." As it would happen, Lt. Onoda would come to take these
words quite literally.
On December 30th, 1944 Onoda loaded his gear (which included explosives for blowing up the pier)
onto the Japanese boat "Seifuku Maru" and proceeded to Lubang Island. They arrived the next
morning and unloaded. This would be the last Japanese supply boat to visit the island.
Lubang island is about 30 kilometers long by 10 kilometers wide. It's highest point has an elevation of about
Upon arriving on Lubang, Onoda found about 200 Japanese soldiers but they were not under a
unified command. About 50 of them made up the Lubang garrison. Another 25 made up the airfield
garrison. Another 55 of them were air maintenance crews even though all the Japanese aircraft had
been withdrawn to Luzon. In short, the command situation was a complete mess.
Furthermore, Onoda's orders did not give him direct command over any of the troops.
He could carry out his orders to prepare for guerilla warfare only with the cooperation of the commanding officers of the
men. And these officers thwarted his efforts at every step.
So when he suggested that the pier be blown up immediately, he was vetoed by the commanding
officer of the garrison. When he suggested that the airfield be destroyed, he was again vetoed
because it was felt that the airfield would be useful when Japanese forces counterattacked, as
they surely must. The net result was that none of the specific orders which Onoda had been given
were carried out by the time Uncle Sam came knocking.
American forces landed on Lubang on February 28th, 1945. At first a small force of about
50 American GI's were sighted landing on a beach. A group of Japanese decided to attack them but the
American landing was only a feint. The next day a larger landing force arrived consisting of a
battalion of Marines. The big American naval guns began to open up on the Japanese defenders.
The Japanese resistance was confused and disorganized. In short, most of the Japanese were wiped out
during the first few days. The Americans managed to capture both the pier and the airfield intact.
By the middle of March only a remnant of the Japanese forces on Lubang remained.
They had retreated towards the central mountains which contained thick, impenetrable jungles.
The Americans would have a hard time finding them there. The supply situation was now becoming
critical for the Japanese. By April they were fast running out of food and so the group of about
twenty decided to split up into smaller groups of about four each, to make foraging easier.
Lt. Onoda led a small group of four soldiers consisting of himself, Corporal Shoichi Shimada, Private First
Class Kinsichi Kozuka, and Private First Class Yuichi Akatsu.
In mid August 1945 the American patrols which had almost been a daily occurrence suddenly
stopped. Onoda and his group could not understand the reason for this.
Of course, they did not know that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had abruptly ended the war.
By October 1945 some airplanes began dropping leaflets which declared that the war was over.
This was the first in a long series of fruitless efforts to convince the Japanese holdouts that the war was indeed over.
Onoda and the others took this as a clever trick by the Americans and carried on as usual.
By April 1946, Onoda and his three companions were the only active Japanese resistance left on Lubang.
They vowed to fight on until the day that Japanese forces retook the island from the
But it soon became painfully obvious that the small group of Japanese soldiers had no hope of
waging an effective guerilla war. They settled for simple survival and they contented themselves with
the fact that they were collecting vital intelligence which Japanese forces would be able to
use when they retook the island. And so they learned to live off the land which often involved
stealing from the native inhabitants. The locals on Lubang came to call them the "Devils in the
In September of 1949, after four years of living off the land and hiding from the locals,
Private Akatsu had had enough. He decided to surrender to the authorities.
Fearful that Akatsu would lead the Americans to them, the remaining three in Onoda's band moved their campsite.
The next year Akatsu was seen leading a search party. They could hear his voice on the loudspeaker saying
that the war was over and that the Filipinos would not harm them. Another clever American ploy, they
The years went by and still no Japanese invasion came. The three soldiers, Onoda, Shimada,
and Kozuka fell into a pattern. They would move their campsite according to the season.
During the rainy season they would stay put most of the time except to search for food.
During the dry season they would roam from one place to the next. They were careful to conserve the ammunition which
they had left, which amounted to several hundred rounds. They would use it from time to time to
kill cows owned by the locals. A single cow if properly prepared could last the three of them
Needless to say, the locals did not take too kindly to their cows turning up dead.
In May 1954 there was an altercation between Onoda's group and some of the locals, in which Shimada was shot
dead. Now there were only two of them. The shootout of 1954 now brought renewed attention to
them. In 1959 the Japanese government sent out an extensive search party looking for them.
It came back empty handed. But it did leave several newspapers behind for the Japanese holdouts.
Lt. Onoda did not know what to make of the newspaper stories he read from the Japan of 1959.
Of course, he suspected that the Americans had inserted their own propaganda.
Nowhere was there any mention of a war going on between Japan and America.
Clever Americans, they had deliberately deleted any reference to the great war which was
being waged. Japan was apparently a great economic power these days.
Wasn't that proof in itself that Japan was triumphing over these American devils?
And so Onoda and Kozuka concocted in their own heads their own world in which the
war between Japan and America was still going on.
One day in 1959 Onoda heard what seemed like the voice of his own brother over the loudspeaker.
The voice was pleading with him to give himself up. He crept to the clearing and took a look. He saw
a man who appeared to look like his brother speaking into the microphone. Clever Americans.
They have now really outdid themselves this time. They have gone to the trouble of finding someone
to impersonate my own brother. Years later Onoda would learn that the man really was his brother.
This is proof I suppose that it is impossible to convince someone of the obvious once they have
their mind made up to the contrary.
Years went by. In 1965 Onoda and Kozuka stole a transistor radio from a local resident.
They were able to listen to Japanese radio broadcasts. But again they either didn't
understand what they were hearing, or they twisted it to fit their own preconceived notion that the
war was still going on.
During the late 1960's and early 1970's Onoda and Kozuka got in the habit of setting the
locals' rice fields ablaze as a way to signal their presence on Lubang to any Japanese forces
that were close enough to see it. But in October 1972 the Filipino police set a trap and arrived at
the scene before Onoda and Kozuka could make their getaway. In the ensuing gunfight Kozuka was shot
dead. Now there was just one soldier left, Onoda himself.
Again, this incident brought renewed interest and there was another search party sent out to
find Onoda. But he managed to evade it easily just as he had all the other search parties which had
tried to track him down for almost thirty years. But then on February 20th, 1974 the unexpected
happened. Onoda approached a tent in a field which he took to be the temporary abode of the Filipino
police. He intended to enter the tent and kill the policeman to revenge the blood of his fallen
comrade. But just then a young man came out. He was Japanese. His name was Norio Suzuki, a
screwball college kid who had set off on a world tour in order to find Lt. Onoda, the panda, and
the Abominable Snowman (not necessarily in that order).
Suzuki tried to convince Onoda that the war was over. Onoda told Suzuki that he would
continue fighting until he received orders from his military superiors telling him to desist.
Suzuki promised to go to Japan and return with someone who could give him those orders.
The next month, on March 9th, 1974 Suzuki returned with Major Taniguchi, the same Major Taniguchi who 30
years before had provided Lt. Onoda with his briefing. Taniguchi read to Onoda the same order
which had been given to Japanese troops in the Philippines thirty years before, the order which
told him that the war was over.
This came as a great shock to Onoda. What had he been fighting for for thirty years?
What had Shimada and Kozuka died for? As Onoda says in the book: "We really lost the war!
How could they have been so sloppy? Suddenly everything went black. A storm raged inside me.
I felt like a fool for having been so tense and cautious on the way here. Worse than that, what had I been doing
for all these years? Gradually the storm subsided, and for the first time I really understood: my
thirty years as a guerilla fighter for the Japanese army were abruptly finished. This was the
Onoda returned to Japan as a hero and a news sensation. He had a difficult time adjusting to
the Japan of 1974 since his mind was still planted in the year 1944. But that is another story.
Lt. Onoda was the last Japanese soldier of World War II to surrender.
"No Surrender - My Thirty-Year War" is the kind of book which I found hard to put down once
I started reading it. I was entirely captivated by the story once I started it.
The more so since this is a true story. I think this book would make one hell of a movie.
The heroism, raw courage, and ingenuity of this little band of Japanese soldiers as they managed to survive for
thirty years is awesome. If the book has a flaw it is that it is too short.
At only 219 pages I'm sure there must have been much more that the author could have put in from thirty years of guerilla
warfare. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes adventure stories.
I give it four stars.