The Loyal Soldier

Three decades after WWII was over, Hiroo Onoda was still manning his post. Alone on an island in the Pacific, the news of the end of the war didn’t reach him. Every day he tended to his obligations – maintaining his weapon and guarding his assigned island. He was a loyal soldier.

People were aware of his presence as of the 1950s, but any attempt to get to him was met with gunshots. He was defending his country after all. They tried to get him official information so he would come out, but he dismissed those as enemy propaganda.

In 1974, 30 years from when he first set foot on the island, 32 years since he enlisted in the Japanese army, his commanding officer made the trip to see him. This was the only person Onada would take an order from. This was the only person who could bring him home.

The command worked. Onada listened. He emerged, crying and confused, and came home to find out the war and his struggle was over.

Jerry Colonna tells a version of this story in his book Reboot. Colonna says we all have loyal soldiers in our heads. They’re the patterns and behaviors we trained to help us survive some metaphorical war we fought in.

It could have been dealing with a parent, or a problem at school, or any other personal or professional relationship during our developmental years. All of us learned how to get through something by training a loyal soldier.

Just like Onada, our loyal soldiers have to be told when the war is over. Just like Onada, they’ve been fighting for a long time. Just like Onada, it’s going to take a commanding officer to bring them back home.

It’s a form of letting go. It’s a form of giving up the fights we don’t need to continue to fight. Not in surrender and not in defeat, but in understanding how the pattern we’re repeating no longer serves a useful purpose.

I love this metaphor. It breaks my heart in the best of ways. We all have our loyal soldiers. Welcome them home. It’s past time.

ps. and share Onada’s story with someone who needs to welcome their loyal soldier home too. They need to hear it.

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