Every 9th of April is known as Araw ng Kagitingan, a nationwide holiday that glorifies Filipino and American fighters' greatness during the Second World War.
On this day back in 1942, roughly 60,000 Filipino troops and almost 12,000 US troops surrendered to the Japanese after four months of battle. It gave birth to the infamous Bataan Death March where the soldiers, most of them weary and sick, were made to go by foot in a 94-kilometer route, from Mariveles, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga. From San Fernando, the prisoners were loaded into waiting for box cars that took them to Capas, Tarlac. Only 54,000 of the original prisoners reached Capas.
Around 20,000 people died from the death march alone, while an estimated 527,000 Filipinos had been killed from all causes for the whole duration of the war.
This celebration is often called "Bataan Day" since it happened obviously in the Province of Bataan, a peninsula that forms the western side of Manila Bay. In fact, Congress passed Republic Act 3022, declaring April 9 of every year as "Bataan Day" in 1961. However, the name "Bataan day" was problematic since it confuses many and cannot explain itself alone. People have to do further research to understand its significance.
Therefore, another law was enacted to give a more meaningful holiday name that can regard the Filipino soldiers' heroism who fought and died to defend Bataan and Corregidor. In 1987, Executive Order No. 203 renamed it as "Araw ng Kagitingan”.
But instead of calling it “Bataan Day,” a much better English translation is that this is “A Day of Valor” - a day when Filipinos can celebrate the lives of courageous men and women in history that can be role models of the present generation, especially that most of younger Filipinos have forgotten it.
We cannot deny the act of selflessness and compassion shown by our fellow Filipinos in the times of adversity of their fellowmen. They have manifested the act of bravery despite doubts or fears about the consequences. There were Jose Abad Santos, Josefa Llanes Escoda, and Vicente Lim to name a few.
On the other hand, there were also Japanese who took their country's love to their hearts, no matter the cost and sacrifice that they had to endure. Hiroo Onoda is one of them. He refused to surrender even decades after the Imperial Japanese Army had surrendered in World War II and hid in Lubang Island's jungles in Mindoro for 29 years. He was the second last Imperial soldier in the world to surrender, after Teruo Nakamura, who surrendered after living in a small hut in Indonesia for 30 years.
A native of Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, born in 1922, Onoda went to China to work for a Japanese trading company when he was 17 years old. But when World War II broke out when he got 18, he was enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army Infantry.
In 1944, at the age of 22, he was sent to the small island of Lubang in Occidental Mindoro to monitor enemies’ forces in the area. Allied forces captured the Japanese forces the following year, but Onoda was one of the few who evaded capture. While most Japanese troops were killed or captured by either Filipino or American forces, Onoda hid in the jingles together with fellow soldiers, disregarding information that the war was over.
Holding his commander's promise that he will come back for him, Onoda survived on any crops available in the jingle or any livestock they could steal from the locals.
After losing his fellow holdouts, usually at the hands of the locals, Onoda was left alone. Two years later, he met a Japanese man named Norio Suzuki, traveling around the globe to “look for Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order”. Onoda was about to shoot Suzuki the moment he saw him, but the latter stopped him. The two became friends, but Onoda still refused to surrender, saying that he was still waiting for his commander’s order.
Suzuki went back to Japan to provide his government with photographs that Onoda was still alive. The government found his former commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, and asked him to help bring Onoda home.
Taniguchi, who became a small-town bookseller, finally met Onoda in Lubang Island and fulfilled his promise 29 years after the war. With that, the former official ordered Onoda to surrender and be released from his military duties.
In his battered old army uniform, Onoda handed his sword, a functioning Arisaka Type 99 rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition, and several hand grenades, as well as the dagger his mother had given him in 1944 to kill himself with if he was captured to then-President Ferdinand Marcos.
In his book, he said, “Every Japanese soldier was prepared for death, but as an intelligence officer, I was ordered to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die. I had to follow my orders as I was a soldier.”
Onoda returned to Japan and was welcomed as a hero. He also released an autobiography, No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War, shortly after his return. After that, he followed his brother to Brazil and set up a cattle ranch. In 1984, he went back to Japan to form an educational camp to train young Japanese in survival and camping skills.
While being honored as a hero in his native land, anger remained in the locality where he lived for almost three decades. President Marcos pardoned him for the reason that he believed they were still at war. But upon his return to Lubang in 1996, locals protested, and relatives of his alleged victims demanded compensations from him. There were apparently around 30 people who Onoda killed for suspecting them to be enemy soldiers. During his revisit, he donated $10,000 to a local school on the island. In 2011, the Mindoro local government opened the Onoda Trails and Caves to showcase how and where he lived. While others condemn Onoda for the hurt he had caused, others appreciate his nobility he left behind.
Onoda died of heart failure in 2014 at the age of 91 in his native land. When asked in 1974 what he was thinking all the time in the jungle, he simply said, "Nothing but accomplishing my duty.”
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