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Imperial Japanese ‘Straggler’ Hiroo Onoda Dead at 91


Japanese stragglerBy Rico Dizon

The Japanese Imperial Army straggler who emerged from the jungles of Lubang Island, Philippines, 29 years after World War II, died last Thurs.,Jan.16, 2014, in a Tokyo hospital at  the age of 91, according to reports by Associated Press’ Elaine Kurtenbach.

Chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, “I am paying great respect to the strong will to live and indomitable spirit of Hiroo Onoda who chose to stay in Lubang Island of Oriental Mindoro, Philippines, even after all other Japanese soldiers surrendered to the American troops that liberated  Manila and the other parts of  the Philippines in early 1945. It is said that the Japanese Imperial Army was taught the code to be loyal and prefer death to surrender. Stories abound that during the American liberation of Manila that started in January of 1945, numerous Japanese soldiers committed “hara-kiri” by jumping to their death over the cliffs of CorregidorIsland where their fortress was located just several kilometers off ManilaBay.

Not for Onoda in the other side of the Philippines. He stubbornly refused to surrender and hid in the thick jungles of LubangIsland, some 150 miles southwest of Manila. Notwithstanding the four searches that followed after the war during which his relatives made appeals for him to come out over loudspeakers and airplanes dropping leaflets over the mountainous area, the Japanese straggler remained steadfast and ensconced in the forest at least until March of 1974 almost 30 years past the end of the Japanese occupation in the Philippines. He finally emerged only after his original first officer reversed his order to remain and spy on U.S. troops. The officer personally trekked to the island and urged him to come out. Onoda appeared emaciated but erect in his patched up fatigue uniform with cap and sword still in good condition.

He fed himself on stealing rice and bananas from the nearby farmers and killed their cows for dried meat, Onoda told of his survival. The last of the Japanese stragglers in the Philippines was presented to then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos just two years after declaring Martial Law in the country. Onoda also made a sentimental journey to the Philippines in May of 1996.

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