3,150 soldiers and 54,000 pigeons made up the United States Army Pigeon Service, from 1917 to 1957, who delivered messages with an astounding 90 percent success rate. One American pigeon known as G.I. Joe, no joke, even received a medal for gallantry after delivering a vital, last-minute message informing British forces that the Italian village they were about to attack was actually under British control, thus preventing a friendly fire disaster that might have resulted in a thousand deaths.
Though I’m related by blood, marriage, and ex-marriage to a member of all five branches of the service – yes, the Coast Guard counts – I myself am civilian through and through and not intimately familiar with daily life in the military. I’d probably be more useful, and less dangerous, in a support role than in the infantry. It takes between 1 and 4 support roles to keep one soldier in the field. There can be obvious things, like medics and supply, and more niche jobs like writers and graphic design. We had a poll on your Facebook and Instagram last week on what the topic for this week should be. Strange military jobs took a slight lead, but when I started researching, the other topics starting falling into my lap, so we’ll get to the jobs on another episode, possibly for Veteran’s Day.
Some jobs aren’t what the title implies and some are flat-out as advertised, such as the aforementioned pigeoneers. The most famous of all the carrier pigeons was one named Cher Ami, French words for “Dear Friend”. Perhaps the most important was the message he carried on October 4, 1918. The 77th Infantry Division, known as “The Liberty Division” because most of the 500 men came from New York with its iconic statue, were trapped in a small depression on the side of the hill. Surrounded by enemy soldiers, many were killed and wounded in the first day. By the second day only a little more than 200 men were still alive or unwounded. Their commanding officer sent out several pigeons to tell his commanders where he was and how bad the situation was. The next afternoon he had only one pigeon left, Cher Ami.
During the afternoon, the American Artillery tried assist by firing hundreds of large artillery rounds into the ravine where the Germans surrounded The Liberty Division. Unfortunately, the artillery unit didn’t know exactly where Liberty Division were, and started dropping shells right on top of them. The major called for his last pigeon, Cher Ami. He wrote a quick and simple note, and put it in the canister on Cher Ami’s left leg: We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.
As Cher Ami took flight, the Germans saw him and opened fire. The American infantrymen watched in crushing sorrow as bullets filled the air and Cher Ami began to fall out of the sky. Somehow Cher Ami managed to start climbing again, higher and higher beyond the range of the enemy guns. The determined pigeon flew 25mi/40m in only 25 minutes to deliver the message. The shelling was stopped the remaining members of Liberty Division were saved.
On his last mission, Cher Ami was badly wounded. When he finally reached his coop, the soldier that answered the sound of the bell that Cher Ami rang to signal that he’d returned found the little bird laying on his back, covered in blood. He had been blinded in one eye and a bullet had hit his breastbone, making a hole the size of a quarter. That’s a big hole on a bird. His right leg was held on by a few tendons. Attached to that leg was a silver canister, with the all-important message. Once again, Cher Ami wouldn’t quit until he had finished his job.
Medics worked long and hard to patch him up, though they weren’t able to save his leg. When the French soldiers that were fighting alongside the Americans learned they story of Cher Ami’s bravery and determination, they gave him one of their own country’s great honors, the French Croix de guerre with a palm leaf. The men of the Division were careful to take care of the little bird that had saved 200 of their friends, and even carved a small wooden leg for him. When Cher Ami was well enough to travel, the little one-legged hero was put on a boat to the United States, where he became a media darling. Upon his death, Cher Ami was stuffed and preserved the for future generations, which is a funny way to say ‘thank you for saving hundreds of humans.’ The taxidermist did do a good job, I have to admit.
Cher Ami had been trained and donated to the U.S. by the British army. The British used pigeons so extensively that after World War II, they created a special medal of honor just for military animals called the Dickins Medal. 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, 3 horses, and one cat have been awarded the medal since 1943. That cat, a cutie-patootie tuxedo named Simon was smuggled aboard the HMS Amethyst by a young sailor. Luckily, the captain was a cat person, and Simon was commissioned to improved morale but more importantly controlled vermin who threatened the sailors finite rations, though Simon’s job security was predicated on the captain never seeing any “cat muck.” Simon took his job very seriously, often bringing the dead rodents to the captain’s cabin as proof of his productivity.
In 1949, Amethyst was ordered up the Yangtze River to protect the British embassy during the Chinese revolution. Communist forces began to shell the ship, severely damaging it and causing it to run aground. 25 men, including the captain, were killed and many more were injured; even Simon was burned and took shrapnel when a shell blasted through the wall of the captain’s cabin where he was sleeping. Once all the human casualties had been tended to, the medic addressed Simon. They were able to get the ship moving again, barely. No other ship could be close enough to assist without suffering the same fate. The sailors were effectively trapped, like a city under siege. There was no way to get supplies. Whatever food they had onboard was all they had.
While Simon was recovering, the rat population on the ship boomed. They had done serious damage to the food supply and were even invading the crew quarters. Once he got his feet under him, it was time to go back to work and he had a job of work ahead of him. One large rat was particularly aggressive and clever enough to avoid traps. When they finally met face to face, Simon lept into action and killed the rat. The men were so elated that Simon was given the rank of Able Seacat, a special variation of Able Seaman. He also accepted a special commission from the medical officer to spend time in the sick bay to keep the wounded sailors spirits up. When Amethyst was finally repaired and able to get away, Simon, like Cher Ami, was a national hero.
From bird, to cat, to dogs. Dogs have been part of human warfare for as long as there has been both domesticated dogs and war. They were especially important during the Vietnam War, or as they call it in the Vietnam, the American war, for everything from base security to detecting ambushes to hunting down fleeing enemy units 4,000 dogs served, including one that was made a Navy SEAL and awarded two for-humans-only Purple Hearts, a German Shepherd named Prince. Yet, like hundreds of other military working dogs at the time, Prince was abandoned in Vietnam. The Pentagon had unfounded concerns that the dogs, some of whom had been pets or police dogs before their service, might bring back communicable diseases. The dogs were considered surplus equipment and ordered to be euthanized; 1,600 were. Only about 200 of them returned to the States, some were given to the South Vietnamese army, and many were just plain abandoned.
There is a resource for Vietnam veterans who want to know what happened to the dogs they handled. The Vietnam Dog Handler Association website, vhda.us, contains information about the fates of many of these dogs. Bill Cummings, a veteran who was one of an estimated 10,000 dog handlers during the Vietnam war, has also created a database of information based on 38,000 military dog records from the defense department. You can find it at Vietnam Security Police Association website at vspa.com. He told the Virginia-Pilot he still gets calls “all the time” from veterans wondering what happened to their dogs. “It felt like leaving a brother behind. Even after all these years, they wake up one day and they can’t take it anymore. Their dogs are long dead, but they still want to know: ‘What happened to him?’”
If you like military animal stories, let me drop another plug for one of my favorite YouTube channels, check out the Citation Needed playlist on Tom Scott’s channel for the video about a war horse with a great name: Sgt. Reckless.
One of many difficulties in trench warfare is that, to shoot at the enemy, the first thing you expose to him shooting at you in your head. Sticking your head into the line of fire is not conducive to a long military career. Enter the periscope rifle. Invented during the Gallipoli campaign in May 1915, by builder Lance Corporal William Beech, the device allowed a soldier standing in a trench to take accurate aim and fire without exposing himself to the enemy.
The upper mirror of the periscope was fixed so that it looked along the sights of a rifle and the image was reflected in the lower mirror that the soldier actually looked at. Though less effective than conventional rifles, the periscope rifle proved to be a useful weapon, and it was soon in use in many front-line trenches.
Gallipoli saw the invention of another rifle designed to keep the user more safe, this time by allowing him to be nowhere near it when it fired. It was an automatic rifle in a very real sense of the word. Australian troops used them to fool their Turkish opponents into believing their trenches were still manned, even as they retreated. Looking like piece of a Rube Goldberg device, the rifle was aimed and fixed in position. Two kerosene tins were placed one above the other, the top one full of water and the bottom one had a string tied to it and to the trigger. A small hole would be punched in the upper tin and water would drip into the lower tin. When the bottom tin got heavy enough, it would pull the trigger. A similar rig used fire instead of water, with a trigger string that would be burned by a candle. These ruses were so effective that 80,000 men were able to evacuate with only a handful of casualties. The lance corporal who designed the drip rifle was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and promoted to sergeant.
While many technological advances come from war, the soldier on the front lines often find themselves looking back in history for offensive and defensive weapons. One such retro weapon became extremely important in the close-quarters combat typical of The Great War was the trench club. The loading time required by standard issue bolt-action rifles could be a major liability in you were raiding an enemy trench. So, troops grabbed old pieces of wood, scrap metal from shells, barbed wire, nails, whatever they could scrounge up, and converted them into weapons. If they could find a gnarly, knobby bit of tree, like an Irish shillelagh, all the better. These trench clubs carried the added benefit of being much quieter than a rifle, an essential characteristic for night raids. You could take out multiple enemies without raising the alarm if you were stealthy enough. A medium-sized club, about 16in/40cm was said to worked best within the narrow spaces of trench warfare. Longer clubs were used by British officers as walking sticks, a sort of gentry up top, murder down below situation.
Another improvised hand weapon that would have looked more at home in a a castle with a moat was the gauntlet or punching dagger. Picture of giant metal mitten with a knife coming out the end of it. The weapon itself comprises a crudely made blade and a protective ‘gauntlet’ made from light sheet steel. A cross-bar is fitted inside the ‘hand’ of the gauntlet, for the user to grip. The gauntlet dagger precluded the wearer from carrying anything in that hand, but was otherwise an ideal weapon for brutal close-quarters combat in a trench. Not only could it deliver a powerful, lethal blow, but it also carried with it psychological effectiveness. If you saw an enemy rushing toward you in a tight space, with half a bayonet blade sticking out of the end of his arm, you would probably get a touch concerned.
The ability to use what’s at hand can be a critical skill. Soldiers needed to be able to see their enemy, to keep track of their movements and get an idea of how many were out there. But you’re not going to walk out into the flat wastes of No Man’s Land to get a headcount. Inside, you climb inside a fake tree. First, engineers would find a dead tree near the front that had been blasted by a bomb. They would then take extensive photos, measurements, and sketches of the dead tree to artists who would create an exact replica from wrinkled, painted iron. To make the bark appear more real, the artists would often cover it with a rough textured concoction made from materials like pulverized seashells. The most important part of the tree, though, was the interior. Soldiers would climb a narrow rope ladder through the middle of the hollow fake tree and sit on a metal seat at the top. Sections of the outer bark were metal mesh to cover viewing holes. They would then communicate what they could see to the troops below. The real challenge came after construction. Since the front lines were very visible, the fake tree had to be installed at night and as quickly as possible. The engineers would tear out the original tree, dig a hole in place of its roots, then install the fake tree. When the enemy awoke in the morning, everything would look the same as the day before.
Low-tech and high-tech weapons were combined for added lethality. WWI began with men on horseback, but ended with men in airplanes. It was the first war in which the airplane played a key role, but bombing could be an inexact science. Modern targeting systems were half a century away; even radar wouldn’t be developed for twenty more years. Bonus fact: radar is an acronym for radio detection and ranging, a name applied to the system by the US Navy a decade later. Bombs also made distinctive whistles as they fell, often giving the enemy a chance to scurry out of the drop zone or return fire. Enter the flechette. It was essentially an enormous dart with feather fletching. First used by the French in 1914, flechettes fell silently. The mechanism of deploying the flechettes was rather simple; a small canister was attached to the bottom of the plane, with a string tied to its lid. Pulling the string would open the canister, dropping the flechettes on the troops below. Even the best helmets gave little resistance to a steel spike dropped from 10,000 feet. Each canister would contain 20 – 250 flechettes; however, one French pilot reportedly dropped as many as 18,000 flechettes over the German troops.
Darts are essentially little arrows and where there are arrows, there are bows, specifically crossbows, but there crossbows propelled grenades. The sauterelle, French for grasshopper, was a bomb-throwing crossbow used by French and British forces on the Western Front. It was designed to throw a hand grenade in a high trajectory into enemy trenches. It could launch an F1 grenade over 400 ft/120m. A metal cup held a the grenade and a pair of hand cranks on a rack and pinion mechanism were used to cock it. It was lighter and more portable, though less powerful, than the Leach Trench Catapult, but less powerful than the old-school-style weapon it replaced, the Leach Catapult.
Designed by a civilian to do his bit for the war efforts, the catapult was 7 feet in length and shaped much like a child’s catapult model. It was powered by 6 to 12, ½” inch diameter rubber bands per side, connected to the hornes of the frame by ropes, with a pouch at the end for the ordinance. A simple crank handle wound the winch, drawing down the cable, trigger, and pouch over a painted scale along the length of the main beam, which allowed for a consistent repeatable amount of pull. There was a simple brass pointer on the side to set the catapult at its optimum angle of 42 ½ degrees. With bomb primed and pulled to the required strength, the fuse lit, the trigger is then struck with a shovel handle and the bomb flies off in an arc to its target. In theory. In practice, the unvulcanised rubber bands stretched and broke, the bomb got hung-up in the pouch or it flew off in a wonky direction.
Some civilian contributions turned out better than others. In late 1917, German U-boat technology was a devastating success; fully one-fifth of Britain’s merchant ships, ferrying supplies to the British Isles, had been sunk in the past year. The Kaiser declared unrestricted submarine warfare, promising to torpedo any ship that came within the warzone. Even a hospital ship was torpedoed. The Allies needed a way to hide their ships, but you can’t simply paint them ocean blue and hope the Germans don’t notice. From the early stages of the war, artists, naturalists and inventors showered the offices of the US and British Royal Navy with largely impractical suggestions for making ships invisible: Cover them in mirrors, disguise them as giant whales, drape them in canvas to make them look like clouds. One scheme to disguise a ship as an island, complete with trees, was actually tested in the field. It didn’t get very far before the canvas covering blew away.
If you can’t paint a ship in a way that makes it less conspicuous, what happens if you paint it more conspicuously? Artist Norman Wilkinson’s innovation, dazzle camouflage, did not hide the vessel, but effectively hid the vessel’s intention. “Since it was impossible to paint a ship so that she could not be seen by a submarine, the extreme opposite was the answer – in other words, to paint her, not for low visibility, but in such a way as to break up her form and thus confuse a submarine officer as to the course on which she was heading.”
In order for a U-boat gunner to hit his target in the torpedo’s range of 300-1,900 meters/300 yards to just over a mile away, he had to accurately predict where the target would at the time of impact, after looking through the periscope as briefly as possible to avoid the periscope being spotted. Typical U-boats could only carry 12 expensive torpedoes at a time, so the gunner had to get it right the first time. Wilkinson’s idea was to “dazzle” the gunner so that he would either be unable to take the shot with any confidence or spoil it if he did. A deviation of as little as 8 degrees would mean a miss; even if it didn’t miss completely, the torpedo wouldn’t hit a vital part of the ship.
Dazzle camouflage used broad swathes of contrasting colors—black and white, green and mauve, orange and blue—in geometric shapes and curves to make it difficult to determine the ship’s actual shape, size and direction. Curves painted across the side of the ship could create a false bow wave, for example, making the ship seem smaller or imply that it was heading in a different direction: Patterns disrupting the line of the bow or stern made it hard to tell which was the front or back, where the ship actually ended, or even whether it was one vessel or two; and angled stripes on the smokestacks could make the ship seem as if it was facing in the opposite direction. The system did have its limitations – it could only be applied to ships that would be targeted by periscopes, because it worked best when seen from the low-down viewpoint of a U-boat gunner. It did precious little against aircraft. American camouflage artist and author Roy Behrens said, “It’s counterintuitive. People can’t really believe that you could interfere with the visibility of something by making it more highly visible, but they don’t understand how the human eye works, that something needs to stand out from the background and hold together as an integral figure.”
Dazzle paint is part of a design to help get supplies to people in inaccessible areas after a disaster. The Dazzle Box, which won the 2018 3M Disruptive Design Challenge, a contest for college engineering students to design an east to transport, resilient, reusable, water-tight box that could be used to deliver medical supplies in emergency situations. Prototypes were tested by dropping them from a 150ft/46m high crane. The winning shape is a truncated octahedron, which rolls and stacks tightly. It’s made of polycarbonate panels, taped together, that can be easily replaced if one breaks. It’s lined with foam that not only protects the contents, but people can then use to sit and sleep on, even cut up and use as sponges. The Dazzle Box is so named because it’s covered with garish and clashing colors and shapes, which ensures it won’t blend in with the environment and get lost. The flashing LEDs on the panels help with that too. Admittedly, this is only barely relevant to today’s topic, but you gotta love good design.
Typically, any given person in a conflict is fighting for a single side. On rare occasions, you may have a deserter or a conscript, who then finds themselves fighting for a second faction. One unlucky Korean man, Yang Kyoungjong, found himself fighting under at least three different banners by the time the conflict was over — Japan, Germany, and Russia, before being captured by United States troops. Living in Japan-controlled Manchuria when the war began, Yang was drafted into the Japanese army in 1938. He fought for them for a year before the Battles of Khalkhin Gol, when he was captured by the Soviet Red Army and sent to a labour camp. Because of the manpower shortages faced by the Soviets in its fight against Nazi Germany, in 1942 he was pressed into fighting in the Red Army along with thousands of other prisoners. After another year-long stint in a foreign military, he was once again captured, this time by the Germans at the Battle of Kharkov. Yang’s story would have ended here if the Nazis weren’t in the habit of allowing prisoners they didn’t execute to “volunteer” to serve with the Wehrmacht following their capture.
As a result of this practise, Yang was conscripted to fight in a German Ostbataillone in the 709 Infanterie-Division of the Wehrmacht. Ostbataillones were small battalions of men composed of “volunteers” from the numerous regions of Europe Nazi Germany controlled. These were folded into larger units of German soldiers to serve as shock troops and backup to more experienced Wehrmacht battalions. After being conscripted to fight for the Third Reich, Yang was sent to help defend the Cotentin peninsula in France shortly before D-Day. When D-Day arrived and Allied troops successfully stormed the beaches, Yang was among a handful of soldiers captured by the United States’ 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Initially it was reported by Lieutenant Robert Brewer of the 506th that they’d captured “four Asians in German uniform”. While this was technically true, they believed the four Asian men were Japanese. In reality, the other three of the men hailed from Turkestan. Unable to communicate because he was not fluent in English or German, Yang was sent to yet another POW camp, this time in Britain, where he mercifully remained until the end of the war. When WW2 ended, Yang chose not to return home, but instead immigrated to the United States where he settled in Illinois and lived quietly until he passed away in 1992.
From the sad tale of a conscript with three armies to an RAF fighter pilot with no legs. Douglas Bader had had two whole legs, as most of us do, when he enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1928. While not unskilled, Bader was something of a braggadocio, showing off and trying to one-up his fellow airmen. That attitude would cost him dearly at age 21, when he disobeyed orders forbidding aerial acrobatics in his Bristol Bulldog. Flying his bi-plane upside down a low altitude, He crashed his plane, mangling both legs so badly that they had to be amputated, one below the knee, the other just above. He had to learn to walk again on artificial legs and doctor weren’t hopeful that he’d ever be able to walk without a cane, let alone ever fly again. His pigheadedness served his for the better this time, as he taught himself to drive a racecar, play golf and tennis, and even dance on his new legs.
At the outbreak of WWII, after repeated requests and refusals to rejoin the RAF as a pilot, Bader was allowed to attend a flying school as a test of his abilities. He passed. He was made pilot of a Spitfire and sent on non-combat patrol and escort missions. Eventually he did get to engage the enemy was he was assigned to air support at Dunkirk, protecting the British Navy and the evacuation of the army. He engaged German planes in dog-fights and discovered that his amputations were actually an advantage. Pilots lose consciousness when high g-forces push the blood in their bodies down to their feet and legs, away from their brains. Bader’s legs stopped halfway, making him less likely to black out during strenuous maneuvers. He was promoted to leader of a demoralized Canadian squadron, who were not all that happy to be led by a double-amputee after already sustaining heavy casualties. Bader was able not only to prove himself to his men, but to rally them. They fought in the Battle of Britain and took down 12 enemy planes. By the end of the war, they had shot down 55 more.
In 1941, Bader was promoted out of the squadron to wing commander, leading bomber escort runs in his Spitfire. He had racked up 20 enemy take-down before August 8 when he attacked a squad of 12 plane and was shot down or his plane collided with another, no one is sure. He tried to bail out, but his prosthetic legs became entangled in the pedals. He managed to escape without and get clear of the crash, but was captured by German ground troops. The German pilots actually admired Bader and contacted British authorities to ask that a replacement leg be air-dropped to the hospital where he was being held prisoner. Bader escaped the hospital, but was captured and moved to a POW camp, Stalag Luft 3. He continues to try to escape; the guards threatened to take his artificial legs if he didn’t knock it off. Bader would spend the next year attempting to escape from and being transferred around to different POW camps before eventually being liberated by American troops.
No amount of olive drab can dull some colorful characters. Born in Hong Kong to a British family in 1906, Jack Churchill, no relation to Prime Minister Winston, is best remembered, as YouTube personality Chris Joel described, “that nutter who tried to fight WWII with a claymore.” Not a claymore mine, a two-hand Scottish sword. Churchill spent his first few years in the army riding his motorcycle across the entire Indian subcontinent and learning to play the bagpipes, despite not being the slightest bit Scottish. He retired from the military after ten years and worked as a newspaper editor, a professional male model, and a movie extra, all the while honing his skills at archery. He re-enlisted in 1940 and found himself and his troops trying to reinforce the ill-fated Maginot Line. He not only refused to give ground, but he launched small-scale guerrilla raids and surprise attacks on German positions and supply depots. Riding his trusty motorcycle and armed only with a longbow and broadsword, he would assault the Germans, catch them completely off-guard. It’s what experts call the element of surprise. When asked by a fellow officer why Churchill insisted on carrying the sword, he responded, “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed”.
Despite being shot in the neck by a German machine gun, “Mad Jack” Churchill battled throughout the Dunkirk campaign, at one point even winning the Military Cross for bravery when he rescued a wounded British officer from a German ambush. After Dunkirk, Jack returned to England and promptly signed up to be a member of a newfangled unit called the Commandos. Churchill was responsible for taking out the artillery batteries on Maaloy Island. As the landing craft went, he belted out “The March of the Cameron Men” on the bagpipes. When the assault ramp swung open, he fearlessly waded through knee-deep water out at the head of his men, with his trusty blade aloft, screaming “Commando!” at the top of his lungs. Two hours later, British High Command received a telegram from the front: Maaloy battery and island captured. Casualties slight. Demolitions in progress. Churchill.”
His squad was charged with taking out an artillery battery garrisoned by a force much larger than his own. In the middle of the night, he had his men charge the town from all sides, screaming as loud as possible. The Germans were confused and surprised, and the 50 men of Number 2 Commando took 136 prisoners and inflicted an unknown number of casualties. But that’s nothing compared to the night he single-handedly took forty-two German prisoners and captured a mortar crew using only his broadsword. Like something from a bad 80’s action movie, our hero simply grabbed a patrol guard as a human shield and went from sentry post to sentry post, shoving his sword in the guards’ faces until they surrendered. Churchill continued to lead his men in action against the German forces in Yugoslavia, but was eventually captured by the enemy and taken off to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.
But it would take more than a concentration camp to hold Jack Churchill. He escaped by crawling under barbed wire and through and abandoned drain. He was later recaptured while walking towards the Baltic coast and shipped off to a prison camp in Austria. This too would prove to be insufficient to hold Mad Jack. He marched 150 miles through the treacherous terrain of the Alps, until he ran across a U.S. Armored column and was sent back to England. Unfortunately for him, the war was pretty much over at this point. “If it weren’t for those damn Yanks,” he groused, we could have kept the war going another ten years.”
Mad Jack Churchil was far from the only man ready for a long war. For one man, WWII lasted for 35 years. In 1944, Lt. Hiroo Onoda was sent to the small island of Lubang in the western Philippines to spy on U.S. forces in the area. He managed to evade capture when Allied forces defeated the Japanese imperial army. While most of the Japanese troops on the island withdrew or surrendered, Onoda and a few others hid in the jungles, dismissing attempts to tell them that the war was over. For 29 years, he survived by foraging or stolen from local farmers. He also killed as many as 30 people he took for enemy soldiers coming after him. One of his companions decided to risk the dishonor of abandoning his duty in 1950 and returned to Japan; one died later that year; the third and final other soldier was killed when he fired on Philippine troops in 1972. Onoda was persuaded to come out of hiding in 1974, but he could not surrender to anyone other than the commanding officer who had ordered him to the island. Until then, Onoda would later explain, he believed attempts to persuade him to leave were a plot concocted by the pro-US government in Tokyo. His former commanding officer traveled to Lubang to see him and tell him he was released from his military duties. Onoda, dressed in his 30 year old uniform that was still in good condition, wept as he agreed to lay down his perfectly serviceable rifle. “Every Japanese soldier was prepared for death, but as an intelligence officer I was ordered to conduct guerrilla warfare and not to die,” Onoda told CNN affiliate, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “I had to follow my orders as I was a soldier.”He was later pardoned for the killings by the then Philippine president, Ferdinand Marcos. He returned to Japan in March the same year, but after struggling to adapt to life in his homeland, he emigrated to Brazil in 1975 to become a farmer. He returned to Japan in 1984 and opened nature camps for children across Japan. Hiroo Onoda died of heart failure in 2014 at age 91.