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Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda who refused surrender for decades dead at 91

Hiroo Onoda refused to surrender after the Imperial Japanese Army was defeated by the Allies in 1944. It was nearly 30 years later when his former commanding officer met with Onoda on the Philippine island of Lubang and officially relieved him of his military duties. Onoda died yesterday in a Tokyo hospital at the ripe old age of 91, according to a CNN.com report.

Official Imperial Japanese Army photo of Onoda
Official Imperial Japanese Army photo of OnodaPublic Domain per old Japanese copyright law

Onoda, a young lieutenant in Military Intelligence, was stationed on the small island of Lubang to spy on the U.S. military activity. After the war was over, Onoda refused to believe that his country would surrender. For the next 30 years he was able to avoid capture. He survived in the jungle by living off the land and by stealing supplies from local farmers.

Once he was discovered and gave up his sword, Onoda returned to Tokyo to a hero’s welcome. Subsequent trips to the Philippines were met with some protesting, however Onoda was pardoned by the Philippine government for alleged multiple killings of Philippine citizens during his time on Lubang.

Onoda lived an interesting life after leaving the Philippines and returning to Japan. In 1975 he moved to Brazil and began a life as a cattle rancher. He later founded a camp for Japanese youth to train them in survival and camping skills. Onoda’s organization, Onoda Shizenjyuku, was established in 1984.

Onoda had been ill since December according to a statement from Hiroyasu Miwa, a staff member of Onoda Shizenjyuku. He died of pneumonia Thursday afternoon at St. Luke's Hospital in Tokyo.