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Japanese WWII soldier who refused to surrender for 29 years dies

Onoda, who stayed hidden on a jungle island in the Philippines for decades after the end of WWII, eventually came out of hiding and received a hero's welcome in Japan.

TOKYO -- A Japanese soldier who hid in the jungle and refused to surrender until 29 years after the end of World War II died on Friday aged 91.

Hiroo Onada was one of the last of many so-called "hold-outs" dotted around Asia who refused to give themselves up after Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered to the Allies in 1945.

Onada died on Friday after a short stay at a Tokyo hospital, The Associated Press reported. 

The soldier became a war hero in Japan after he hid on the Philippine island of Lubang until March 1974. He only gave himself up after his former commander flew out and reversed his orders from 1945, which had instructed him to spy on U.S. troops.

After his death on Friday Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga praised his spirit.

"I vividly remember when Mr. Onoda returned to Japan. That's when I personally felt that the war was over," Suga said when asked about Onoda's passing during Friday’s daily briefing.

Japan had several dozen other men who stayed in various parts of Asia long after the war. Another hold-out, Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi, emerged from the jungle in 1972 to widespread praise in Japan.

Most Japanese troops surrendered when U.S. forces landed on Lubang in February 1945. After they left, Onaoda’s biggest challenge had been survival. He stole rice and bananas from locals and shot their cows to make dried beef, according to The Associated Press.

When Onoda surrendered to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, he wore his 30-year-old imperial uniform, complete with cap and sword, all of which were in good condition.

Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who stayed in the Philippine jungle after World War II ended, died today. On May 18, 1974, NBC News' Tom Brokaw and Don Oliver looked at Onoda's life back home in Japan, his hero status and his difficulty adjusting.

In a 1995 interview with the AP, he said: "I don’t consider those 30 years a waste of time. Without that experience, I wouldn’t have my life today."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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