Would you ever believe me if I told you that a Japanese soldier fighting in World War II held out in the Philippine jungles for over 30 years, thinking that the war was still ongoing?

This is the real-life story of Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, a member of the Imperial Japanese Army who, at a very young age of 18, joined the Japanese Army – and then remained in the army for some 30 years after the war ended in 1945 as a hold out who refused to surrender.

A young Japanese Soldier Hiroo Onoda photographed prior to his deployment to Lubang Island (Wikimedia Commons).

How He Ended Up In The Philippine Jungles

First joining the Imperial Japanese Army Infantry in 1942 as an intelligence officer, otherwise known as a “Futamata” under the Imperial Nakano School, he was trained in guerrilla warfare, Propaganda, philosophy, history, martial arts, and covert operations. His job would be to work in counter-insurgency operations in the vast territory that Japan had conquered all over the Pacific in the first six months of the war. These territories spanning from China to the Philippines and even Burma were full of subject people who were prone to rebellion and insurrection tying down Japanese army units needed elsewhere in their emerging empire as the Americans pressed in on it from the South and Central Pacific theaters.

He was sent to the Philippines in 1944 – in the waning years of the World War. For Japan, the Philippines occupied the important strategic position of guarding the Formosa Straits through which Japan’s vital supplies of oil, tin, and rubber arrived from Java, Sumatra, and the Celebes.