For the people who lived through it, the Second World War started in 1939 and lasted until 1945. It was six years of global warfare that involved dozens of countries and almost every continent. It was chaos.
What though, if it hadn’t lasted six years. What if, instead, it went on not for six, not for 10, not for 20 but rather for 35 years. For Hiroo Onoda a posting to the Philippines just a year before the end of the war stretched out his service right up until … 1974.
Posted to Lubang Island with orders to destroy the airfield and pier and to prevent enemy soldiers from over-running the island, crucially Onoda was ordered specifically not to take his own life – or to surrender under any circumstances. When the island was finally taken by the Allied Forces at the end of February 1945 (some two months after his posting there), Onoda and his three surviving comrades fled into the mountains – and continued a guerrilla campaign for the next 3o years.
It was only when Onoda met Norio Suzuki in 1974 that there was finally some progress in encouraging his surrender – which had failed several times already in the past. Suzuki was travelling the world with the goal of seeking “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda and the Abominable Snowman – in that order”. The story of Onoda was known to his fellow countrymen but it was only when Suzuki returned to Japan with photos that that government sent Onoda’s former commanding officer to The Philippines.
Major Yoshimi Taniguchi successfully convinced Onoda to surrender, fulfilling the promise made in 1944 – “Whatever happens, we’ll come back for you”. Onoda surrendered to the then president of The Philippines – Ferdinand Marcos.
As incredible as the story of Hiroo Onoda might be, he was not the last holdout of WWII. At the time of Onoda’s surrender, Teruo Nakamura was at large on Morotai Island in Indonesia. Nakamura was discovered and arrested in December of 1974 before being sent home, directly to Taiwan.
Unlike Onoda who was Japanese, Nakamura was Amis, born in Taiwan and a member of a Takasago Volunteer Unit of the Imperial Japanese Army. While Onoda and Nakamura were the last of the holdouts who had shunned the people around them and doubted news of Japan’s surrender, there were others who continued to fight after WWII, with the very last known Zanryū nipponhei (remaining Japanese soldiers) finally laying down their arms in 1989.
These final two had joined the Communist insurgency in Malaysia and they finally stopped fighting after the signing of a peace accord in this conflict.
On a final note, you know what gravity does, right? When you jump, gravity is responsible for bringing you back to earth … with a bump. Great. Here’s a question though, do you know the speed of gravity? Gravitational waves do absolutely have a speed and it is has been measured. The (ahem) “speed of gravity” is equal to the speed of light in a vacuum. In case you’ve forgotten what that is, that’s 299,792,458 metres per second – or around 300,000 km/s. You should read the article on Wikipedia, mind-bending stuff.