Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda of the Japanese army flew to Clark Airbase on Luzon (The Philippines) in December 1944. He met with Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, the commander of the Special Intelligence Squadron, and was ultimately posted to the island of Lubang to undertake guerrilla operations until further notice.
He finally received his new orders in March 1974, near thirty years after the war had ended.
The head disappeared, but in a few moments Major Taniguchi emerged from the tent fully clothed and with an army cap on his head. Taut down to my fingertips, I barked out, ‘Lieutenant Onoda, Sir, reporting for orders.’
‘Good for you!’ he said, walking up to me and patting me lightly on the left shoulder. ‘I’ve brought you these from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.’
He handed me a pack of cigarettes with the chrysanthemum crest of the emperor on them. I accepted it and, holding it up before me in proper respect for the emperor, fell back two or three paces. At a little distance, Suzuki was standing ready with his camera.
Major Taniguchi said, ‘I shall read your orders.’
I held my breath as he began to read from a document that he held up formally with both hands. In rather low tones, he read, ‘Command from Headquarters, Fourteenth Area Army’ and then continued more firmly and in a louder voice: ‘Orders from the Special Squadron, Chief of Staff’s Headquarters, Bekabak, 19th September, 1900 hours.
‘1. In accordance with the Imperial Command the Fourteenth Area Army has ceased all combat activity.
‘2. In accordance with Military Headquarters Command No. A-2003, the Special Squadron in the Chief of Staff’s Headquarters is relieved of all military duties.
‘3. Units and individuals under the command of the Special Squadron are to cease military activities and operations immediately and place themselves under the command of the nearest superior officer. When no officer can be found, they are to communicate with the American or Philippine forces and follow their directives.
‘Special Squadron, Chief of Staff’s Headquarters, Fourteenth Area Army, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi.’
After reading this, Major Taniguchi paused slightly, then added, ‘That is all.’
I stood quite still, waiting for what was to follow, I felt sure Major Taniguchi would come up to me and whisper, ‘That was so much talk. I will tell you your real orders later.’
After all, Suzuki was present, and the major could not talk to me confidentially in front of him.
I watched the major closely. He merely looked back rather stiffly. Seconds passed, but he still said no more. The pack on my back suddenly seemed very heavy.
Major Taniguchi slowly folded up the order, and for the first time I realized that no subterfuge was involved. This was no trick – everything I had heard was real. There was no secret message.
The pack became still heavier.
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 guerrilla fighter for the Japanese army were abruptly finished. This was the end.
I pulled back the bolt on my rifle and unloaded the bullets.