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Hiroo Onoda Dies at 91: Japanese Soldier Lived in Jungle for 29 Years

Image: Hiroo Onoda Dies at 91: Japanese Soldier Lived in Jungle for 29 Years

By Morgan Chilson   |  

Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who lived in the Philippine jungle for 29 years after World War II ended because he refused to believe that it was over, died Thursday at 91 years of age, The New York Times said.

Onoda, a lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army, received a hero’s welcome when he finally laid down his sword and returned to Japan in 1974.

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He was following his last order to remain and fight, Onoda wrote in his memoir. It was a sentiment that appealed to the Japanese culture, which rewards devotion to duty.

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

He was at first accompanied by two other soldiers, and when leaflets were dropped and rescue parties were sent in to get him to give up, he refused, Onoda told ABC. “The leaflets they dropped were filled with mistakes so I judged it was a plot by the Americans,” he said.

Over time, Onoda’s fellow soldiers were killed while fighting with Philippine soldiers. Finally, in 1974, what ABC described as a “wandering college dropout” talked to Onoda and asked him what it would take for the soldier to lay down his weapon.

“This hippie boy (Norio) Suzuki came to the island to listen to the feelings of a Japanese soldier,” Onoda told ABC. “Suzuki asked me why I would not come out. I said that if the war was over and I received an order telling me to stop fighting I would come out. So Suzuki brought my commanding officer to Lubang and he did just that.”

Onoda returned to a Japan that was vastly different than when he left 30 years before, and he didn’t feel at home amongst skyscrapers and the materialism that was part of the modern culture, the Times said.

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Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who lived in the Philippine jungle for 29 years after World War II ended because he refused to believe that it was over, died Thursday at 91 years of age.
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