Hiroo Onoda, who refused to surrender for 30 years after second world war, dies

Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda waged a lone guerilla campaign on Luzon island until former commander convinced him to surrender in 1974

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 11:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 11:04pm


A Japanese soldier who hid in the Philippine jungle for three decades, refusing to believe the second world war was over until his former commander returned and persuaded him to surrender, has died in Tokyo aged 91.

Hiroo Onoda waged a guerilla campaign in 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 Army had been defeated failed, 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 one-man war.

Onoda was the last of several dozen so-called holdouts scattered around Asia, men who symbolised the astonishing perseverance of those called upon to fight for their emperor.

Trained as an information officer and guerilla 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 continued to obey that order long after Japan's 1945 defeat. Their existence became widely known in 1950, when one of their number emerged and returned to Japan.

I lived through an era called a war. What people say varies from era to era

The remaining men continued to survey military facilities, attacking local residents and occasionally fighting with Philippine forces, although one of them died soon afterwards. Tokyo and Manila searched for them but ruled in 1959 that they were dead.

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

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

Onoda later said he had believed attempts to coax him out were the work of a puppet regime installed in Tokyo by the United States. He read about his home country in newspapers searchers scattered in the jungle for him to find, but dismissed their content as propaganda.

It was not until 1974, when his old commanding officer visited him in his jungle hideout to rescind the original order, that Onoda's war eventually ended.

Asked in Japan after his return what he had been thinking about for the past 30 years, he said: "Carrying out my orders."

But the Japan that Onoda returned to was much changed. The country he had left was in the grip of a militarist government, its economy in ruins and its people hungry.

But the Japan of 1974 was in the midst of a decades-long economic boom and in thrall to Western culture. It was also avowedly pacifist.

Onoda had trouble adapting, and in 1975 emigrated to Brazil to start a cattle ranch, although he often returned home.

In 1984, still very much a celebrity, he established a youth camp, where he taught young Japanese some of the survival techniques he had used during his 30 years in hiding, when he lived on wild cows and bananas.

He returned to Lubang in 1996 at the invitation of the local government, despite his having been involved in the killing of dozens during his three-decade battle.

"I lived through an era called a war. What people say varies from era to era," he told a radio station last May. "I think we should not be swayed by the climate of the time, but think calmly."

Agence France-Presse