Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hiroo Onoda March 19, 1922 - Jan. 17, 2014 Japanese Soldier Hid in Jungle at War's End

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hiroo Onoda March 19, 1922 - Jan. 17, 2014 Japanese Soldier Hid in Jungle at War's End

Article excerpt

Hiroo Onoda, an Imperial Japanese Army officer who remained at his jungle post on an island in the Philippines for 29 years, refusing to believe that World War II was over, and returned to a hero's welcome in the all-but-unrecognizable Japan of 1974, died Thursday in a Tokyo hospital. He was 91.

Caught in a time warp, Mr. Onoda was one of the war's last holdouts: a soldier who believed the emperor was a deity and the war a sacred mission; who survived on bananas and coconuts and sometimes killed villagers he assumed were enemies; who finally went home to the lotus-land of paper and wood that turned out to be a futuristic world of skyscrapers, television, jet planes, pollution and atomic destruction.

Japanese history and literature are replete with heroes who have remained loyal to a cause, especially if it is lost or hopeless, and Mr. Onoda, a small, wiry man of dignified manner and military bearing, seemed to many like a samurai of old, offering his sword as a gesture of surrender to President Ferdinand E. Marcos of the Philippines, who returned it to him.

And his homecoming, with roaring crowds, celebratory parades and speeches by public officials, stirred his nation with a pride that many Japanese had found lacking in postwar years of rising prosperity and materialism. His ordeal of deprivation may have seemed a waste to much of the world, but in Japan it was a moving reminder of the redemptive qualities of duty and perseverance.

It happened with a simple command. As related in a memoir after he came home, Mr. Onoda's last order in early 1945 was to stay and fight. Loyal to a military code that taught that death was preferable to surrender, Mr. Onoda, a second lieutenant, remained behind on Lubang Island, 93 miles southwest of Manila, when Japanese forces withdrew in the face of a U.S. invasion.

After Japan surrendered in August, thousands of Japanese soldiers were scattered across China, Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. Many stragglers were captured or went home, while hundreds went into hiding rather than surrender or commit suicide. Many died of starvation or sickness. A few survivors refused to believe the dropped leaflets and radio announcements saying the war had been lost.

Mr. Onoda, an intelligence officer trained in guerrilla tactics, and three enlisted men with him found leaflets proclaiming the war's end but believed they were propaganda tricks. They built bamboo huts; ate bananas, coconuts and rice pilfered from a village, and killed cows for meat. Tormented by tropical heat, rats and mosquitoes, they patched their uniforms and kept their rifles in working order.

Considering themselves at war, they evaded U.S. and Filipino search parties and attacked islanders they took to be enemy guerrillas; about 30 inhabitants were killed in skirmishes with the Japanese over the years. …

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