Former Japanese Imperial Army soldier Hiroo Onoda has died at the age of 91 — roughly 40 years after he stopped fighting World War II.
Onoda, the last Japanese soldier to surrender, hid out in the jungles of the Philippines for almost 30 years after 1945, only coming out of hiding in 1974. The straggler formally surrendered — still wearing his uniform — to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos after his former commander flew out to rescind his 1945 order that Onoda stay there and spy on American forces, the AP reports.
The New York Times reports that Onoda was with three comrades on Lubang Island when the war ended; believing leaflets attesting to the war's end to be Allied propaganda, they lived off bananas, coconuts, stolen rice, and cows they killed, and constructed bamboo huts.
One of the men surrendered five years later; the others were shot and killed by police, the last just two years before Onoda emerged. The Guardian reports that he "wept uncontrollably" when he eventually gave up his rifle — still "perfectly serviceable" after all those years, and one he may have used to kill as many as 30 locals that he mistook for enemies.
A Japanese government spokesman praised Onoda for his unbreakable spirit: "After World War II, Mr. Onoda lived in the jungle for many years and when he returned to Japan, I felt that finally, the war was finished. That's how I felt."
After the war finally ended for him, Onoda bought a ranch in Brazil before returning to Japan to run a children's nature school. "I don't consider those 30 years a waste of time," he said in a 1995 interview. "Without that experience, I wouldn't have my life today."