Posted on February 3, 2014

Have you ever promised to do something and then, for any number of reasons, failed to follow through? I imagine most of us have had that experience. However, we also know people of whom we say that they can be counted on to follow through, regardless of time or difficulty. Very few, however, can equal Hiroo Onoda.

Onoda's death on January 16 at age 91 was noted by the media with words of wonder. We readers shook our heads, maybe even chuckled in astonishment, but, I hope, did not miss the greater point.

Onoda was the Japanese soldier fighting in the Philippines in World War II who was ordered by his commander in the last days of the war to fight on until that commander returned. Onoda did, long after the war had ended and other soldiers had gone back to civilian life. He stayed in the jungle, sometimes killing villagers whom he saw as the enemy, stealing their livestock to survive, and refusing to believe leaflets announcing the end of the war which he saw as enemy propaganda. He had been given his orders to fight on -- and he did. His last companions died and Onoda himself was officially declared dead in 1959.

He wasn't. He was keeping his promise until he was finally discovered in 1974. He still refused to go home since he was awaiting orders. It took a visit from his former commander to convince him that he had fulfilled his commitment. The war was over and he could lay down his sword.

He returned to Japan, a bit of a Rip Van Winkle shrugging off 29 years of lost life, often stunned by the changes he found. His countrymen were awed by his having clung so long to a traditional value that so many of them thought had been forever lost.

In a careless world of "I forgot" or " Was I supposed to?", Onoda's holding firm does stir feelings of astonished admiration because it is so rare. Strange as he seems, Hiroo Onoda made me reflect.


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