Imperial soldier who waged war until ’74 dies

Onoda hid in Philippine jungle 30 years before believing WWII was over

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

A Japanese soldier who hid in the Philippine jungle for three decades because he did not believe World War II was over has died in Tokyo at age 91.

Hiroo Onoda waged a guerilla campaign on Lubang Island near Luzon until he was finally persuaded in 1974 that peace had broken out.

Leaflet drops and other efforts to convince him the Imperial Japanese Army had been defeated were unsuccessful, and it was only a visit from his former commanding officer, who ordered him to lay down his arms, that brought an end to his war.

Onoda was the last of several dozen so-called holdouts scattered around Asia, men who symbolized the astonishing perseverance of those called upon to fight for Emperor Hirohito, who was considered a god.

Trained as an intelligence officer and guerrilla tactics coach, Onoda was dispatched to Lubang in 1944 and ordered never to surrender, never to resort to suicidal attacks and to hold firm until reinforcements arrived.

He and three other soldiers stuck to that order long after Japan’s 1945 defeat. Their existence in the Philippines became widely known in 1950, after one of them emerged and returned to Japan.

The remaining men continued to surveil military facilities, attack local residents and occasionally fight Philippine forces.

One of them died in the 1950s.

Tokyo and Manila searched for the remaining two over the next decade, but ruled in 1959 that they were already dead.

However, in 1972, Onoda and the other soldier got involved in a shootout with local troops that resulted in the death of his comrade, but Onoda managed to escape.

The incident shocked Japan, which took his relatives to Lubang in the hope of persuading him that the hostilities were over.

Onoda later explained that he had believed attempts to coax him out were the work of a puppet regime installed in Tokyo by the United States.

It was not until 1974, when his old commanding officer visited him at his jungle hideout and rescinded the original order, that Onoda’s war eventually came to an end.

After returning to Japan, Onoda emigrated in 1975 to Brazil, where he ran a farm.

Since 1984, he had organized Onoda Shizen Juku (Onoda Nature School), a program in Japan providing nature and life education.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference, “I vividly remember that I was reassured of the end of the war when Mr. Onoda returned to Japan.”

  • Peter Fogarty

    An incredible story of dedication, perseverance and survival.

  • Swaibu Kaigama

    Brave man #RIP