TOKYO -- Hiroo Onoda, the
last Japanese imperial soldier to emerge from hiding in a jungle in the
Philippines and surrender, 29 years after the end of World War II, has died. He
Onoda died Thursday at a
Tokyo hospital after a brief stay there. Chief government spokesman Yoshihide
Suga on Friday expressed his condolences, praising Onoda for his strong will to
live and indomitable spirit.
"After World War II,
Mr. Onoda lived in the jungle for many years and when he returned to Japan, I
felt that finally, the war was finished. That's how I felt," Suga said.
Onoda was an intelligence
officer who came out of hiding, erect but emaciated, in fatigues patched many
times over, on Lubang island in the Philippines in March 1974, on his 52nd
birthday. He surrendered only when his former commander flew there to reverse
his 1945 orders to stay behind and spy on American troops.
Onoda and another World
War II holdout, Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi, who emerged from the jungle in 1972,
received massive heroes' welcomes upon returning home.
Before and during the war,
Japanese were taught absolute loyalty to the nation and the emperor. Soldiers
in the Imperial Army observed a code that said death was preferable to
Onoda refused to give up,
despite at least four searches during which family members appealed to him over
loudspeakers and flights dropped leaflets urging him to surrender.
In his formal surrender to
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Onoda wore his 30-year-old imperial army
uniform, cap and sword, all still in good condition.
After the initial
sensation of his return home wore off, Onoda bought a ranch in Brazil. He later
was head of a children's nature school in northern Japan.
"I don't consider
those 30 years a waste of time," Onoda said in a 1995 interview with The
Associated Press. "Without that experience, I wouldn't have my life
Still, he showed a great
zeal for making up for years lost.
"I do everything
twice as fast so I can make up for the 30 years," Onoda said. "I wish
someone could eat and sleep for me so I can work 24 hours a day."
The son of a teacher,
Onoda worked for a Japanese trading firm in Shanghai after finishing high
school in 1939. Three years later, he was drafted and trained at a military
In December 1944, he was
sent to Lubang, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Manila. Most other
Japanese soldiers surrendered when U.S. troops landed on Lubang in February
1945, though hundreds remained missing for years after the war.
As he struggled to feed
himself, Onoda's mission became one of survival. He stole rice and bananas from
local people down the hill, and shot their cows to make dried beef, triggering
The turning point came on
Feb. 20, 1974, when he met a young globe-trotter, Norio Suzuki, who ventured to
Lubang in pursuit of Onoda.
Suzuki quietly pitched
camp in lonely jungle clearings and waited. "Oi," Onoda eventually
called out, and eventually began speaking with him.
Suzuki returned to Japan
and contacted the government, which located Onoda's superior - Maj. Yoshimi
Taniguchi - and flew him to Lubang to deliver his surrender order in person.