Stories involving last survivors are intriguing.
It's amazing to me that many of us were alive when Walter Washington Williams passed away in December 1959 at the reported age of 117 in Houston, Texas. He was the last surviving veteran of the Civil War.
Just three years ago, Frank Wood Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, passed away at the age of 110 in Charles Town, W. Va. He was just a teenager when he drove ambulances and motorcycles near the front lines in Europe during the Great War. His incredible life story extended into World War 2 when he was captured by Japanese forces while working in the shipping business, and spent three years in the Philippines as a civilian prisoner.
Another chapter of World War 2 history ended last Thursday with the death of Hiroo Onoda in a Tokyo hospital at the age of 91. Stories of the Japanese holdouts - also called stragglers - is one of the more fascinating human interest stories of the last century.
In 1945, Onoda had orders to stay behind and spy on U.S. troops on Lubang island in the Philippines. He was NOT to surrender. Three other soldiers were with him at the end of the war. One emerged from the jungle in 1950 and the other two died.
Onoda ignored several attempts to get him to surrender. He managed to avoid search parties sent to find him, and he believed the leaflets dropped by Japan were just a ploy to get him to surrender. After being flown in, Onoda's aging former commanding officer finally persuaded him to surrender. An erect but emaciated Onoda emerged from hiding in March 1974, his 52d birthday.
One reason he remained a combatant on the island for nearly three decades was because the Philippines remained a dangerous place after being liberated by Allied forces. Any Japanese soldier sighted on the island was hunted down and killed.
Like all young Japanese soldiers and pilots, Onoda was also driven by Bushido, a code developed in the early 18th century that demands bravery and self-sacrifice. It's a disgrace to surrender and honor comes from death.
The Nazis swore that same kind of blind loyalty to Adolph Hitler. Today, we see a similar kind of fanaticism with the radical Islamic groups like al-Qaeda, Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Taliban, which consider Americans to be infidels.
By Jim Zbick