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‘Fargo’ Fact Check: Did a Japanese Soldier Really Refuse to Surrender in World War II?

FX series gives another interesting history lesson, this time telling the real story of Lt. Hiroo Onoda, who kept fighting World War II into the 1970s

(Spoiler alert: Please do not read on if you haven’t watched Wednesday’s episode of “Fargo”)

“Fargo” fans get another interesting history lesson from V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) in Season 3’s latest episode. And like the previous instances in which the show has plumbed the real world for weird stories from the past, this one, unlike the rest of the season, is true.

In “Fargo” Episode 8, “Who Rules the Land of Denial,” Varga tells Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) the story of Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier who fought in World War II. According to Varga’s version of events, U.S. forces dropped leaflets over the Pacific island where Onoda was stationed in September 1945 to let Japanese soldiers know the war was over. As Varga explained in “Fargo,” Onoda, however, refused to take the message.

Allied troops landed on the Lubang Island where Lt. Onoda, 22 at the time, was stationed in February 1945. While other Japanese troops on the island were overtaken or surrendered, Onoda, an intelligence officer with orders to sabotage and disrupt the enemy and to never surrender, escaped into the hills with three other soldiers. As Mashable reports, they lived on bananas, stolen cattle and coconuts, and occasionally found themselves in shootouts with Lubang’s local police.

Once the war had officially ended, the U.S. dropped leaflets on Lobang that said the war was over and ordering holdouts to surrender. Onoda and his companions decided the leaflets were a trick and vowed to go on fighting.

The group kept fighting for years. One surrendered in 1950, another was killed in 1954 when a search party found him. Onoda and his last companion continued for almost 20 more years, when the last man was killed in 1972 by local police. He and Onoda were doing their job: sabotage. They were caught destroying a grain store at a farm.

Alone, Onoda escaped. And he still didn’t surrender. He’d also become a legend in Lubang and beyond by that point. A young man named Norio Suzuki heard Onoda’s story and set out to find him. And eventually, in 1974, Suzuki did.

Suzuki explained to Onoda that the war was over, but Onoda said he wouldn’t surrender unless ordered by a superior. So Suzuki got in touch with the Japanese government, who tracked down Onoda’s commanding officer, almost 30 years after the war had ended. Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, by that point, was running a bookstore.

Taniguchi headed to Lubang and officially relieved Onoda of his duties. Three days later, not quite 29 years after World War II had ended, its last soldier officially surrendered.

Onoda died in 2014 at the age of 91. He and his companions had actually killed about 30 people in nearly three decades their war had persisted, but when Onoda surrendered to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, he received a pardon.

While Varga’s story about a sandwich starting World War I on “Fargo” is a little historically dubious, the story of Onoda is definitely true. It marks another fascinating true story added to the “true” one of the show.

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