On a Loyal Soldier

Major Yoshimi Taniguchi of the Japanese Imperial Army distinguished himself for bravery during World War 2. He and his command fought in the Philippines, occupying the nation for over 2 years before the Americans under General Douglas MacArthur retook much of the Philippines before the war ended in the summer of 1945. His tenacity and bravery in the face of overwhelming American firepower and personnel during the recapture endeared him to his men who said that they would follow Taniguchi to the ends of the earth if he so commanded. Stationed on an island off the northwest coast of the Philippines, Taniguchi told his men to hold out as long as they could as the Americans made their way across the island. He and his men were some of the last Japanese soldiers to surrender when the war ended.

Taniguchi returned home to a country not only devastated by the bombings (both conventional and atomic), but Japan also faced economic shortages of food and basic living necessities, and the embarrassment of having lost the war. Yet, he was praised by his men and his family for his war service to the Emperor and the nation. He took pride in this fact. Like the overwhelming majority of his fellow citizens, he set about the task of rebuilding Japanese society. By the early 1970s, the former army officer had been working as bookseller in his hometown. It was by no means glamorous, but it was good, honest work befitting a man of his character.

As the 30th anniversary of the end of the war approached, the Japanese government contacted Taniguchi and asked him if he would be willing to return to the Philippines to reunite with some of his former soldiers. The government promised to take care of all expenses. Now, Taniguchi hadn’t thought much about such reunions. He never really kept in contact with his fellow servicemen in the ensuing years. Yet, there was one soldier, a Lt. Onoda, whom he had often thought about in the previous 30 years and wondered what had happened to him. Onoda was as loyal a soldier as you could find, Taniguchi thought. The reunion promised to reunite him with this man. Taniguchi realized that it would be a good thing to see Onoda after such a long time, and so he agreed to the trip.

While so much had changed on the island since Taniguchi had left in 1945, the jungle and the heat and the mosquitoes had not changed, he noticed. And, on March 9, 1974, on a trail in the jungle, he was reunited with his former fellow soldier, Lt. Onoda. Interestingly, Onoda wore his old uniform to the meeting. As Major Taniguchi approached his old comrade, Onoda snapped to attention more out of habit than anything else. Taniguchi returned Onoda’s sharp salute, and told the man to stand at ease.

“Lieutenant,” Taniguchi began, “I honor your service to your Emperor, your nation, and your fellow soldiers.” And, surprisingly, Taniguchi bowed low before the man who had been his subordinate. Then he straightened and and continued, his eyes moist with tears.

“The war ended 30 years ago, Lieutenant. You have to face the facts about that. I order you to stand down.”

And, because his commanding officer ordered him to do so, after living in hiding in the jungles of the Philippines, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda officially and ceremonially surrendered and turned over his gun to the Philippine army–almost 30 years after the war ended.

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