UK & World News

  • 17 January 2014, 15:32

Japan's Hidden WWII Jungle Soldier Onoda Dies

A Japanese soldier who hid in the jungle for three decades, refusing to believe World War Two was over, has died in Tokyo at the age of 91.

Hiroo Onoda only came out of the Philippines jungle to surrender when his former commander returned in 1974 and persuaded him to give up, bringing his one-man war to an end.

Leaflet drops and other efforts to convince him the Japanese army had been defeated had failed.

Trained as an information officer and guerrilla tactics coach, Onoda was sent to Lubang island 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 continued to obey that order long after Japan's 1945 defeat.

In 1972, Onoda and the other surviving soldier were involved in a shoot-out with Philippine troops. His comrade died, but Onoda managed to escape.

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

But he refused to quit, saying later that he had believed attempts to coax him out were the work of a puppet regime installed in Tokyo by the US.

Asked at a news conference in Japan after his 1974 return what he had been thinking about for the previous 30 years, he told reporters: "Carrying out my orders."

The Japan that Onoda returned to was very changed - gone from a strong militarist government that believed in its divine right to rule the region to an economy in the grip of a recession.

Japan was by then also avowedly pacifist.

Onoda had difficultly adapting to the new reality and, in 1975, emigrated to Brazil to start a cattle ranch, although he continued to travel back and forth.

"I don't consider those 30 years a waste of time," he said in an interview in  1995.

"Without that experience, I wouldn't have my life today."

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