Hiroo Onoda, WWII veteran who hid in the jungle for 29 years, dies at 91

News & Views - January 20th, 2014
hiroo-onoda

A Japanese imperial soldier who hid in a jungle in the Philippines for nearly three decades, not surrendering because he refused to believe World War II had ended, has died in Tokyo.

While most of the Japanese troops withdrew or surrendered in the face of oncoming American forces, Hiroo Onoda and some of his comrades sought refuge in the forest on Lubang Island to evade capture.

Even after his fellow holdouts died, Onoda took to heart orders given to him never to surrender and lived in unimaginable conditions in the jungle for 29 years. He lived on stolen rice and bananas from villagers, and shot their cows to make dried beef.

He finally emerged from the jungle in 1974, emaciated and with only his old imperial army uniform on his back, when his former commander flew to the Philippines and released him from his military duties.

Onoda was 52 years old when he handed over his samurai sword to former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos in a symbolic gesture of surrender in March that year.

He returned to his homeland a hero, receiving outpourings of praise for his extraordinary determination to carry on despite appeals from his family and colleagues to surrender.

“Every Japanese soldier was prepared for death, but as an intelligence officer I was ordered to conduct a guerrilla warfare and not to die,” Onoda told ABC in an interview in 2010.

“I became an officer and I received an order. If I could not carry it out, I would feel shame,” he added.

Recalling the years he spent in the jungle, he said he never felt that more than a quarter of his life was wasted.

“Without that experience, I wouldn’t have my life today,” Onoda said. “I do everything twice as fast so I can make up for the 30 years. I wish someone could eat and sleep for me so I can work 24 hours a day.”

Onoda died of pneumonia at St. Luke’s Hospital in Tokyo on Friday at the age of 91.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image of Onoda presenting his sword to President Ferdinand Marcos: gmanetwork.com