Hiroo Onoda was a Japanese WWII soldier who continued fighting until 1974 because he did not realise his country had surrendered. After joining the Japanese army Onoda was taught methods of gathering intelligence and conduct[ing] guerrilla warfare, then, in 1944, he was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines. His orders were simple:
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 … Under no circumstances are you [to] give up your life voluntarily.
Onoda’s fellow soldiers outranked him and prevented him from carrying out his assignment, which made it easier for the allied forces to take the island when they landed in 1945. All but Onoda and three others died or surrendered so the survivors retreated into the jungle. Living in the mountains they carried out guerrilla activities, killing Filipino islanders, and engaging in shootouts with the police.
The first time they saw a leaflet which claimed that the war was over was in October 1945, which read: “The war ended on August 15. Come down from the mountains!” However, they concluded that it must be Allied propaganda. Later leaflets were dropped by air with a Japanese surrender order printed on them, and in 1952 letters and family pictures were dropped from aircraft urging them to surrender, but the group again determined that these were not genuine.
Eventually his companions surrendered or were killed, leaving Onoda alone. In 1974, he met Norio Suzuki, who was traveling the world looking for “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order”. Onoda and Suzuki became friends, but Onoda still refused to surrender, saying that he was waiting for orders from a superior officer.
Suzuki returned to Japan with photographs of himself and Onoda as proof of their encounter, and the Japanese government located Onoda’s commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had since become a bookseller. He flew to Lubang where he finally met with Onoda and fulfilled the promise made in 1944, “Whatever happens, we’ll come back for you.” Onoda was thus properly relieved from duty, and did not surrender.