Hiroo Onoda comes out of hiding on Lubang Island in the Philippines in March 1974.


DISBELIEVING that World War II ended in 1945, four years after it started, a loyal member of the Japanese Imperial Army soldiered on for the next 29 years in a remote island of Lubang in Occidental Mindoro.

His last order before the American liberation of the Philippines was to remain at his post, harass the enemy, and conduct a guerrilla war.

Hiroo Onoda, a second lieutenant, did as ordered, singlehandedly, as three enlisted men who fled with him were killed in skirmishes with local militia and government troops pursuing stragglers.

He survived on bananas and coconuts.

While in hiding, he and his comrades killed at least 30 inhabitants they thought were enemies.

He finally emerged from his hideout in 1974, but only after the Japanese officer who gave him the order returned to Lubang at Tokyo’s request and relieved the soldier of his duty.

The officer, now a bookseller in Tokyo, was fulfilling his promise to come back for Onoda “whatever happens.”

Can you believe that?

This was a soldier who adhered to a military code that honors the Emperor as a deity, the way the samurai’s of old would have done without question.

No wonder Onoda stirred his country’s pride and admiration.

Many Japanese soldiers committed hara kiri right after the war rather than surrender.

Onoda died of heart failure in a Tokyo hospital last week.

He was 91.

Even the residents of Lubang conveyed their “deepest and sincerest sympathy” to the Japanese people and the Onoda family.

“He has proven man’s indomitable spirit to survive 30 long years of extreme isolation, loneliness, deprivation and suffering, practically alone in the wild jungle of Lubang Island,” wrote Mayor Juan Sanchez in a letter to the Japanese ambassador to the Philippines.

To honor Onoda, the local government in Lubang named a cave and a nature’s trail after him.

His other legacy, said Sanchez, was his effort to protect the forest.

We digress: Was he protecting himself or the forest?

Or both?

The forest obviously served him in good stead.

In an extensive obituary in The New York Times on Jan. 18, it was reported that Onoda, officially declared dead in 1959, was found by a Japanese student searching for him and was shown photographs that the war was over.

But Onoda resisted pleas to return home, insisting that he was still awaiting orders to do so.

A Japanese delegation, his former commanding officer and his brother went to the Philippines and told him he had accomplished his mission.

He was received in Manila by the late President Ferdinand Marcos who pardoned him for crimes committed while on the lam.

He yielded his sword to Marcos who returned it to him.

Back in Japan, he was given a military pension and received $160,000 for his ghostwritten memoir, “No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War.”

In 1976, he married a Japanese tea-ceremony teacher and moved to a Japanese colony in São Paulo, Brazil where he raised cattle.

He and his wife returned to Japan in 1984.

Onoda revisited the site of his long holdout in Lubang in 1996 and gave $10,000 to a school there.

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