Last Japanese WWII Fighter to Surrender After 30 Years in Jungle Dies at 91

Japanese Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, an intelligence officer who fought during World War II and refused to surrender for 29 years, has died at age 91 in Tokyo. Onoda hid in the Philippine jungle for decades after the war ended, refusing to believe that the world-changing war was, in fact, over. The only person who could get him to come home was his former commander, who personally flew from Japan to reverse Onoda's orders.

When the U.S. Army landed in Lubang, most of the Japanese forces surrendered, but hundreds of soldier like Onoda went missing and hid out for years. But Onoda was the last hold-out; a staunch traditionalist who held to the highest values of pre-WWII Japanese military creed: war is honor, and loyalty is paramount. It's these same traits that kept him in the jungle and manning his post, even as family members launched searches for him no fewer than four times, and flights passing overhead dropped leaflets saying the fight was over.

The Independent wrote that "He told ABC in 2010 that the leaflets were filled with mistakes 'so I judged it was a plot by the Americans.'" Then, in 1974, a Japanese traveler looking for Onoda (quite a H.M. Stanley-Dr. Livingstone situation, we presume) found him and contacted the government, who then contacted Onoda's former commander.

His commander arrived and released Onoda of his orders, which read like this:

No wonder he was pretty adamant about staying. In any case, Onoda returned to Japan a hero.

As the New York Times reports:

Upon his belated release from duty, Onoda followed through with the ritual of surrender by presenting his sword in full uniform to the then-president of the Philippines, who returned it to him because, hey, that stuff's history. Literally.

So what did he do next? Onoda bought a ranch in Brazil and headed up a children's nature school in Japan.

"I don't consider those 30 years a waste of time," Onoda said in 1995. "Without that experience, I wouldn't have my life today. I do everything twice as fast so I can make up for the 30 years," he added. "I wish someone could eat and sleep for me so I can work 24 hours a day." Well, that makes one of us.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)