Survival Life

Hiroo Onoda and His 30-Year War

Photo by Hans Eiskone on Unsplash

This article discusses a Japanese soldier who survived in the Philippines for 30 years with only his original equipment.

Along the way, he overcame many obstacles and persevered through his cunning and ingenuity. The lessons that can be learned from this story are a fascinating example of what can be accomplished when facing intense odds.

Hiro Onada’s Background

Like many Japanese citizens in pre-WW II society, Hiro Onada was raised by a strict code of honor and discipline. When his country called upon young men to fight, he didn’t hesitate to enlist and fight for his homeland. He was trained as an intelligence agent and sent to the South Pacific where his duties would take him to the Philippines.

Onada received training for jungle warfare on the island of Okinawa, which had a lush tropical environment. In the last 50 years, much of it has been cut down for buildings, roads and military bases. This place provided a proving ground for the young soldier, and a served as a precursor to his life for the next three decades.

Onada’s Training

In the mid 20th century, the Japanese way of life was still bound by a stringent code of honor and discipline.  The breaking of this code would compel a person to perform ritual suicide or die before dishonoring their family.  This is a crucial aspect of this tale because it was what drove this humble man to fight 30 years in a war that had ended in 1945.

In December of 1944, he and Onada and his men were sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines. Within a few months of arriving, all but three of his men had been killed. Shortly after that, the island was taken over by the Allies, and the Japanese had been defeated. Due to the lack of communication devices and contact with a chain of command, Onada and his men continued to fight a guerrilla style of war until they were adequately relieved.

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While none of us expect to find ourselves in this unique situation, what is exceptionally notable about our subject is his devotion to duty. Like all Japanese families, he had his family sword which he carried to this wet tropical environment. Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time in a humid climate can tell you how difficult is to keep items rust-free and well-maintained.

When he finally surrendered in 1974 to President Ferdinand Marcos, he appeared in his original uniform with his family sword and much of his original gear still functional.

Personal Applications

Here are some of the lessons that can be gleaned from this devoted individual:

Discipline and will to survive are key

Onada’s mindset and training were not acquired merely through his experience in the jungle, but prior training and discipline had bolstered them since childhood.

His will to survive kept him fighting, even when he claimed for not to have gotten a full night of sleep in 30 years. Find what drives you to push yourself, and focus on that! Once you have met your initial goal, keep pushing and striving to be better. Always be working to improve.

Training is essential

Not only must you train for what you think you are going to encounter, but you also must prepare for the unexpected. If you live in a humid area, train for the desert; if you have never been around the coast, train for that. Your ability to train and vary your regimen to prepare for anything will help you to survive, should the need arise. While going through Air Force Survival Instructor training, we had to build fires in numerous ways. Split wood fires with an axe, knife and metal match (ferrocerium rod), then switch to do the same while raining, snowing, with 30 MPH winds, etc.  Each time the standards were elevated, and the task made more challenging.

Learn to improvise and overcome obstacles.  With humidity ever present, and jungle rot a possibility, Onada kept his uniform dry and well mended.  He kept it as clean as possible and washed his equipment as the situation allowed. Onada would use animal fats to keep his gear rust free and lubricated.

Never stop learning! As you have read this article, I hope you are inspired to reach outside your comfort zone and explore new survival tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP’s). Start with what interests you the most, or what is familiar in your area, and expand from there.

What other great survival stories do you love? Are you inspired to learn more about surviving against all odds? Let us know in the comments below!