The last Medal of Honor recipient to have stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day dies at 92
Special day: Ehlers pictured December 19, 1944 receiving his Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Immortalized: Walter Ehlers’ Medal of Honor, awarded for his actions during World War II, is shown in 2011 in his home in Buena Park, California
132 combat missions is most remarkable
Local Tuskegee airman saved lives, fought prejudice
A 1946 TAAF photo of John Leahr. (Photo: Enquirer Archives)
“We were hoping this was going to be the way things changed,” he told the Enquirer in 1995. “But there was so much prejudice that the Army tried to keep our success a secret. They didn’t want us to be successful. I’m just now beginning to see mention of the Tuskegee Airmen in the textbooks.”
In this 1929 third-grade class photo, John Leahr is the African-American boy in the third row. Herb Heilbrun is the white boy over his left shoulder. The two didn’t know each other’s names, and ended up flying on the same missions during World War II, but did not meet until more than 50 years after the war. (Photo: Enquirer Archives)
John ‘Bud’ Hawk dies at 89; WWII Medal of Honor recipient
In August 1944, Hawk, wounded by German fire, scrambled through enemy fire to guide American tanks toward targets. President Truman awarded him the Medal of Honor in 1945.
John Hawk and his wife prepare to fly to France to dedicate American cemeteries in 1956. Hawk was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1945 by President Truman for heroism in Normandy in the summer of 1944. (Art Forde, The Seattle Times / December 31, 1969)
By Steve Chawkins
November 10, 2013, 8:24 p.m.
At 19, John “Bud” Hawk had been in the Army a little more than a year when German tanks started blasting away at his machine-gun unit in a Normandy apple orchard.
The Germans, hemmed in by Allied forces to the north and the south, were desperate to fight their way east, out of what was called the Falaise Pocket. Hawk’s unit, while dramatically outnumbered, was an obstacle.
Taking cover behind a tree, Hawk felt a burning pain in his right thigh when a German shell penetrated the trunk.
“French apple trees aren’t worth a darn,” he told CNN in 1994.
A little later that day — Aug. 20, 1944 — the wounded Hawk scrambled through enemy fire to higher ground so he could guide newly arrived, heavy-duty American tank destroyers to their targets. When that didn’t work, he ran to the destroyers and told their crews where to aim, exposing himself to another round of deadly bursts. Then he made it back to the rise and did it all over again.
He also rallied his scattered troops during a lull in battle and had them rig up a working machine gun from the parts of two that had been destroyed.
His actions earned the young sergeant the Medal of Honor, the nation’s top military award for valor in battle. After decades of Greatest Generation modesty about his wartime achievement, Hawk, a retired elementary school teacher and principal, died Nov. 4 at his home in Bremerton, Wash. He was 89.
His death was caused by complications from a stroke, his daughter Marilyn Harrelson said Sunday.
Hawk was one of 467 troops who received the Medal of Honor for service in World War II. Eight survive.
While he spoke frequently about military service to civic and school groups, he didn’t often go into the details of his unit’s engagement outside the town of Chambois.
“Most of the time he referred them to his citation,” his daughter said. “He told them, ‘You can read about it.’” In 2009, he told the Seattle Times that heroics were the furthest thing from his mind when he was in the Army.
“You’re doing the job, doing the best job you can,” he said, “and the accomplishment is to get the damned thing over with.”
Born in San Francisco on May 30, 1924, John Druse Hawk grew up on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and signed on with the Army two weeks after graduating from high school in 1943.
Weeks after the Normandy invasion, he landed in France on a troop transport plane and soon was dug in with other troops at the Chambois apple orchard.
After he was wounded, he limped to a drainage ditch and helped a soldier with a bazooka stalk enemy tanks. Over hours of on-and-off fighting, German tanks and troops were again advancing while two newly arrived, heavy-duty U.S. tank destroyers fired away.
“Their shots were ineffective because of the terrain until Sgt. Hawk, despite his wound, boldly climbed to an exposed position on a knoll, where unmoved by fusillades from the enemy,” he tried to wave the destroyers to better positions, according to Hawk’s Medal of Honor citation.
Hawk shouted, but the din of battle drowned him out. His only choice, he later said, was to deliver instructions to the destroyers by running through heavy enemy fire.
He repeated the risky process several times, until two German tanks were destroyed and a third retreated. Ultimately, the Falaise Pocket was sewn shut and some 500 German troops surrendered, thanks in large part to Hawk’s “fearless initiative and heroic conduct,” his citation said.
In later years, Hawk said he was hardly fearless in battle.
“If you’re not afraid, you’re nuts or you want to die,” he told an interviewer. “Courage is, I think, how you handle fear.”
Hawk refused hospitalization for his leg wound so he could stay with his unit, according to “Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty,” a 2003 book by Peter Collier.
He went on to fight at the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded again.
On June 24, 1945, President Truman draped the Medal of Honor around Hawk’s neck on the steps of Washington’s state capitol in Olympia.
Returning to civilian life, he attended Olympic Junior College and earned a biology degree from the University of Washington. He was an educator in Kitsap County for 31 years, retiring in 1983.
For years, he was grand marshal of Bremerton’s Armed Forces Day parade. In Rolling Bay, his Bainbridge Island hometown, officials in 2010 put his name on the post office, which he jokingly recalled as “the center of the known world” when he was growing up.
In addition to his daughter, Marilyn Harrelson, of Federal Way, Wash., he is survived by his son, Mark, of Des Moines, Wash., and a grandson. His wife, Natalene, died in 1985 and son David died in 1956.
Lou Brissie, an All-Star and War Hero, Dies at 89
Lou Brissie holding one of his baseball cards in 2007.
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN
Published: November 26, 2013
Lou Brissie, who suffered devastating leg wounds in World War II but went on to become an All-Star pitcher with the Philadelphia Athletics and a symbol of perseverance for the disabled, died on Monday in Augusta, Ga. He was 89.
The cause was cardiopulmonary failure, his wife, Diana, said.
The major leagues lost scores of players to the armed forces during World War II, but many were assigned to military ball clubs to entertain fellow servicemen.
Minor leaguers and college and semipro ballplayers often found a far different war. These were men like Corporal Brissie of the 88th Infantry Division, a 6-foot-4 South Carolinian whose blazing fastballs as a left-handed pitcher in textile mill leagues had drawn the notice of Connie Mack, the Athletics’ owner and manager, in June 1941.
After watching Brissie work out, Mack encouraged him to go to college, saying that he would pay for his education and that in a couple of years he could go to spring training with the Athletics.
But Brissie entered the Army in December 1942 after one year playing at Presbyterian College in South Carolina and became a combat infantryman.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1944, he was slogging through the Apennines in northern Italy with his platoon when a German shell exploded beside him. Fragments broke his right foot, injured his right shoulder and shattered the shinbone of his left leg into more than 30 pieces.
As he recalled it long afterward, “My leg had been split open like a ripe watermelon.”
Brissie was evacuated to a hospital in Naples, where an Army surgeon, Dr. Wilbur K. Brubaker, told him he would probably have to amputate his leg, which had become infected.
Brissie explained that he hoped to pitch in the major leagues. Dr. Brubaker wired the shattered bone fragments together and put Brissie on the new “wonder drug” penicillin. His leg was saved, but over the next two years he underwent 23 operations.
Mack encouraged Brissie to hold on to his dream, and in the spring of 1947 he sent him to the Athletics’ minor league team in Savannah, Ga. Brissie wore a metal brace to protect his leg, but he was a sensation, winning 23 games and losing 5.
In September, Brissie made his major league debut for the Athletics, starting for them at Yankee Stadium. He was beaten, 5-3, but he had achieved an ambition that hardly seemed imaginable.
Brissie pitched a complete-game four-hitter to defeat the Boston Red Sox, 4-2, in a doubleheader at Fenway Park opening the 1948 season. But he endured a frightening moment when Ted Williams hit a line drive that caromed off his brace.
“I hit a ball back to the box, a real shot, whack, like a rifle clap,” Williams recalled in his memoir “My Turn at Bat” (1969), written with John Underwood. “Down he goes, and everybody rushes out there, and I go over from first base with this awful feeling I’ve really hurt him. Here’s this war hero, pitching a great game. He sees me in the crowd, looking down at him, my face like a haunt. He says, ‘For chrissakes, Williams, pull the damn ball.’ ”
Brissie had a 14-10 record in 1948. He was 16-11 in 1949, his best season, and pitched three innings in the All-Star Game at Ebbets Field.
“I knew I was a symbol to many veterans trying to overcome problems,” he once said. “I wasn’t going to let them down.”
Leland Victor Brissie was born June 5, 1924, in Cleveland Indians in April 1951 and appeared with them mostly in relief. He retired after the 1953 season with a 44-48 career record.
Some batters tried to take advantage of Brissie’s limited mobility coming off the mound by bunting, among them Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto.
But as Brissie put it: “Rizzuto was a great competitor. I always liked him.”
After retiring from the major leagues, Brissie, who lived in North Augusta, S.C., near the Georgia border, directed the American Legion baseball program and worked for a South Carolina state board that trained workers for newly created businesses in the state.
In addition to Diana Brissie, his second wife, he is survived by their daughter, Jennifer Brissie; a son, Rob, and a daughter, Vicki Bishop, from his marriage to his first wife, Dorothy, who died in the 1960s; his stepchildren, Charlotte Klein and Aaron Smith; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In an interview with The New York Times in 1985, Brissie said he had been hesitant to speak about his war wounds, but had begun to offer encouragement to the disabled.
“People with disabilities have told me, ‘Because of you I decided to try,’ ” he said. “That changes you.”
In his later years, walking with crutches, his left leg scarred and misshapen and still prone to infections, Brissie visited the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Augusta to speak with those wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Hospitalized there since July, he watched a ceremony on the Internet in which a high school baseball field in Ware Shoals, S.C., where he once pitched textile league baseball, was named for him on Veterans Day .
Brissie kept a stainless steel watch he had picked up at an Army PX. It was frozen at 10:57:53 a.m., the moment he was hit by that German shell. It served as a reminder of bad luck, but ultimately of his good fortune.
“The thing that I got out of all this,” he told The Augusta Chronicle in 2001, “is even the things that look impossible aren’t.”
Wing Commander Kenneth Wallis
Wing Commander Kenneth Wallis, who has died aged 97, was a wartime bomber pilot who flew 28 missions over Germany; but he became better known after the war as a key figure in the development of the autogyro, which, most famously, he flew as Sean Connery’s stunt double in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice.
One interviewer observed that if a screenwriter had invented Wallis, with his air of derring-do and rakish white handlebar moustache, they would have been told to come back with a more realistic character. Part Biggles, part Professor Branestawm, he became involved in all kinds of historic events.
Among other things, he flew B-36s laden with nuclear bombs over the North Pole; hunted Lord Lucan over the Sussex Downs; scanned the deep waters of Loch Ness for the “monster”; and advised the designers of Concorde on how to reduce engine noise.
Wallis inherited a love of tinkering and “the family vice” — a love of speed — from his father Horatio and uncle Percy who, in 1910, inspired by the Wright Brothers’ first flight in France, built the “Walbro monoplane” in a bid to scoop a £1,000 prize for the first all-British aeroplane. They missed out by a couple of months, but still flew (and duly pranged) their flying machine.
Wallis himself began building autogyros — a bit like tiny helicopters but with twin propellers, one above and one behind — in 1959, and by the end of his life he had some 18 of the machines, in varying states of flightworthiness. They occupied a workshop in the grounds of his home near Dereham, Norfolk, spilling out into the rest of his house and jostling for space with numerous other inventions — mini cameras, scale models of bomb-loading trolleys, model racing cars and bits and pieces salvaged from German wartime jet engines .
He never had formal training as an engineer, preferring to apply “the bloody obvious combined with common sense”. One of his inventions was a trap set up in his workshop to trick burglars, which had a tendency to go off every time he walked into it.
Wallis became a familiar figure in Norfolk, whizzing demonically across the sky at air shows and public occasions, and suffering his fair share of bumps and scrapes in the process — including an occasion when, aged 90, a freak gust brought him crashing to the ground in front of spectators. “It was embarrassing,” he admitted, “although I have to say it was a model crash landing.”
What he called his “harem” of autogyros was used to set 34 world records, of which he still held eight at his death. Among other achievements, he set a record in 1975 (now superseded) for the longest flight in an autogyro when he flew the entire length of the British Isles (“I’d have gone further, but we ran out of land”). He also flew an autogyro at 18,976ft without oxygen; became the oldest pilot to set a world record when, aged 81, he “accidentally” achieved the fastest climb to 3,000ft, in seven minutes 20 seconds; and he set a world speed record for an autogyro of 129.1mph at the age of 89.
To his great regret Wallis never found a commercial manufacturer for his autogyros, although he was delighted when the James Bond film producer Cubby Broccoli recognised its dramatic potential: “I was asked to demonstrate it to him at Pinewood Studios, taking off on the back lot along a short strip of concrete towards a pile of railway sleepers — the basis of a ‘volcano’. I disappeared in a cloud of dust and everyone waited for me to crash… but my autogyro climbed away safely. Broccoli immediately said, ‘Get it to Japan in six weeks.’”
Wallis and his autogyro, “Little Nellie”, were duly dispatched to the set of You Only Live Twice, where Wallis stood in for Sean Connery in a famous sequence in which “Bond”, in a rocket-firing autogyro, fights baddies in orthodox helicopters, zipping around an active volcano — while Connery “sat in a replica in Pinewood with a fan ruffling his shirt and pretended to be flying”.
“Broccoli told me to shave off my handlebar moustache so I could double for Sean Connery, which was a bit of a shock,” Wallis recalled. “The Japanese pilot of the camera helicopter had trained as a kamikaze, which caused me a little concern, but in fact he was a very nice chap… There was no mention of me in the credits, which was a mistake, obviously. But the tours in America and Australia were great fun.”
In the light of all this it is astounding to think that when Wallis first applied to join the RAF, in the 1930s, he was turned down twice due to defective eyesight.
Kenneth Horatio Wallis was born on April 26 1916 at Ely, Cambridgeshire, where his father ran a cycle and motorcycle shop, and was educated at The King’s School, Ely. He developed an interest in mechanics tinkering in his father’s workshop, and built his first motorbike aged 11. Later he moved on to high-speed boats, some driven by aircraft propellers, which he made himself, and custom-built cars.
Wallis had been born with limited vision in his right eye and as a child wore an eye patch; in 1936 this defect led to his rejection by the RAF. Undeterred, he paid £14 to obtain a private flying licence which required only a certificate signed by his GP, obtaining the licence after just 12 hours flying a Gypsy Moth. Having failed another test for the RAF in 1938, when he tried again after the outbreak of war Wallis decided to cheat. While the doctor’s back was turned, he sneaked a look with his good eye at the bottom line of letters on the test chart and passed.
After flying Westland Lysander patrols with No 268 Squadron, in 1941 Wallis transferred to Bomber Command, flying Wellingtons with No 103 Squadron, based at RAF Elsham Wolds in north Lincolnshire, attacking heavily defended targets in the Ruhr. Though he survived 28 missions over cities in Germany he gained something of a reputation for being accident prone, earning the nickname “Crasher”.
Returning from Frankfurt in September 1941, Wallis found his airfield blanketed by fog. He made a number of abortive attempts to land but, with his fuel tanks almost dry, he climbed to allow his crew to bail out. After they had done so, Wallis’s parachute snagged on his seat — he finally got clear at very low level, and his parachute opened only seconds before he hit the ground.
On another occasion, the wing of his Wellington was almost severed by a balloon cable and he managed to crash land.
After a tour as a bombing instructor, Wallis left for Italy and flew bombing operations with No 37 Squadron. Having survived another crash when his aircraft was struck by lightning, he applied to fly Mosquito bombers at night — a mistake, as it meant that his night vision was tested. “All hell let loose — ‘You’ve been flying with a bomber crew and you can’t see properly!’” he recalled being told. But the RAF ophthalmologist was more positive. “He said, ‘Wallis, I’d rather have a man with a bit of fire in his belly who wants to fly than some of the perfect specimens I get here who don’t.’”
To amuse himself and other aircrew between missions, Wallis built model slot-racing cars powered by tiny electric motors, racing them on a disused blackout board. This was years before the development of Scalextric, and as Wallis recalled: “Mine was more realistic — it had front wheels which really steered round corners.”
Wallis remained in the post-war RAF and specialised as an armament officer, among other things solving the problems of loading bombs efficiently on to the RAF’s first jet bomber, the Canberra, and testing the Mach 2 – later known as the Lightning.
During a two-year posting to the USAF’s Strategic Air Command armament and electronics division in the 1950s, he flew B-36s laden with nuclear bombs over the North Pole and participated in powerboat races in vessels that he made from redundant parts, winning the 56-mile Missouri Marathon. He also set about building his first autogyro. He returned to Britain to be the Command Armament Officer at Fighter Command.
Wallis demonstrated his autogyros at numerous RAF air shows before leaving the RAF in 1964 in the rank of wing commander. He moved to Norfolk, hoping that he would be able to put them into commercial production for “reconnaissance, research and development, surveillance and military purposes”. But it never happened. Instead, during the 1970s, he worked with a company that pioneered a type of multi-spectral aerial photography that could detect where bodies were buried, as a result of which he was called in to help in several high-profile missing-person searches.
In 1970 he joined the hunt for the Loch Ness Monster, spending two days in the air taking pictures, but with no result. In 1975 he was called in by the police to help search for the fugitive peer Lord Lucan: “They thought he might have committed suicide in Newhaven, so I drove down with the autogyro on a trailer and had a good look, but he wasn’t there.”
In 2010 the 94-year-old Wallis was reported to be furious that his plan to break his own autogyro speed record had been frustrated by the Civil Aviation Authority’s decision to impose a speed limit of 70mph for autogyros. The CAA agreed to give him special one-off permission to breach the limit, but in the event he never made the attempt.
Wallis received many national and international awards, was appointed MBE in 1996 and in July this year was awarded his Bomber Command clasp, 68 years after he risked his life over Germany. It was an award that meant much to him.
In 1942 he married Peggy Stapley, a WAAF officer, who predeceased him. They had a son and two daughters.
Wing Commander Kenneth Wallis, born April 26 1916, died September 1 2013
Flight Lieutenant Tony Snell
Flight Lieutenant Tony Snell, who has died aged 91, was shot down in his Spitfire over Sicily and escaped from a German firing squad. Recaptured, he leapt from a train and finally escaped over the Alps into neutral Switzerland.
Tony Snell, born March 19 1922, died August 4 2013
Wing Commander Vladimir Nedved
Wing Commander Vladimir Nedved, who has died aged 95, was twice forced to flee his native Czechoslovakia to seek his freedom; first to fight with the RAF, and later with his young family after the communist takeover of his country.
Following the German occupation in 1939 he left Czechoslovakia without identity papers, travelling by train and on foot through the Balkans. In Lebanon he boarded a ship for France, arriving in early 1940; and in June he managed to escape to England, where he joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve and trained as a navigator before joining No 311 (Czech) Squadron, equipped with the Wellington bomber.
On the night of December 16/17 1940 his crew was sent to bomb Mannheim. Shortly after take-off, one of the engines failed and caught fire and the bomber crashed into trees. Nedved survived uninjured and immediately went to the aid of the pilot, who was badly injured. Despite the flames, he was able to drag him clear. He then returned into the blazing fuselage to assist the rear gunner, who was trapped in his turret. Ammunition started to explode and the fire intensified. Even when a bomb exploded Nedved refused to leave his injured colleague.
As the flames approached the rear of the aircraft, Nedved’s colleague implored him to shoot him rather than let him die in the fire. Nedved refused, but the explosion of another bomb killed the gunner. Miraculously, Nedved survived; all his colleagues perished.
Nedved was recommended for the George Cross, but in the event was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for gallantry.
Vladimir Nedved was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, on March 27 1917 and educated at Kyjov High School. He joined the Czech Air Force in October 1936 and trained as a navigator, graduating from the Military College in 1938 as a flight lieutenant.
Nedved completed 25 bombing operations over Germany with No 311 before training as a pilot, and in 1942 he returned to the Czech bomber squadron which had recently been assigned to Coastal Command for operations against U-boats in the Atlantic.
Flying a Wellington on September 29 1942, Nedved was involved in a running battle with three Junkers 88 fighters over the Bay of Biscay. He jettisoned his bombs and tried to gain some cloud. His gunner shot down one fighter before a second attacked, only to be driven off with a burning engine. Nedved then escaped into cloud before returning to his base at sea level.
The squadron was re-equipped with the long-range four-engine Liberator, for the first time giving Coastal Command the capability to close the “Atlantic Gap” which had allowed the U-boats to operate with greater freedom. In November 1942 Nedved was promoted to squadron leader.
In August 1943, aged 26, Nedved was awarded a DFC for his aggressive patrolling and was also promoted to wing commander. As commander of No 311 he continued to patrol the Atlantic. The Czech government-in-exile awarded him the Czech Gallantry Medal and the War Cross with three bars.
In April 1944 he left for Burma to be a staff officer at the Headquarters of 3rd Tactical Air Force. Despite his ground appointment, he flew a number of transport operations dropping supplies to the Army garrisons that were surrounded at Imphal and Kohima.
After six months Nedved returned to England to join the Czech Inspectorate with Transport Command and in January married his Czech sweetheart. In August 1945 he was repatriated to Czechoslovakia and served at the Air Force College as a tactics instructor before attending the Military Staff College in Prague on his promotion to lieutenant-colonel.
The communists took power in February 1948 as Nedved was completing his course. He and his RAF wartime colleagues who had returned to their homeland were persecuted, and Nedved joined a group planning to escape back to England. He booked three seats on an internal flight to Bratislava piloted by a friend. After take-off the co-pilot (a communist sympathiser) was arrested at gunpoint and the aircraft turned for Germany and flew at very low level to land at a USAF base near Munich where most of the passengers sought political refugee status.
Nedved and his family travelled to England, where they were given British citizenship. He rejoined the RAF in October 1948, and for two years flew transport aircraft with No 31 Squadron before heading for the Middle East to take command of No 78 Squadron flying Valetta transport aircraft. On his return to Britain he converted to jets and was adjutant at the Central Gunnery School. In 1956 he was put in command of the RAF’s Selection Board for ground officers. He retired two years later, and moved with his family to Australia. Settling in Sydney, he worked in administration for the Shell-BP oil company. He later moved to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
Nedved spent much of his time writing and recording events of the war. A deeply religious man, he always claimed that his faith was one reason for his survival. For many years he was a lay preacher with the Uniting Church.
After the fall of communism, President Vaclav Havel promoted Nedved to major-general in the Air Force Reserve. On October 28 1996 he was awarded the country’s highest honour, the Order of the White Lion, for outstanding service and leadership in the fight for freedom; he also received the Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, awarded to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to humanity, democracy and human rights. On May 8 2005 he was given the rank of lieutenant-general.
Vladimir Nedved married his wife, Luisa, in 1945; she survives him with their three sons.
Wing Commander Vladimir Nedved, born March 27 1917, died October 31 2012
Hiroo Onoda, Japanese soldier who hid in Philippine jungle for 29 years, dies at 91
JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images – This picture taken on March 11, 1974 shows former Japanese imperial army soldier Hiroo Onoda (R) offering his military sword to former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos to express his surrender
By Adam Bernstein
The formal surrender of Japan was held in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945 — weeks after two atomic bomb blasts brought an end to years of carnage. Emperor Hirohito called on the Japanese to “endure the unendurable,” forfeiting the cause that led millions of his countrymen to their graves.
World War II was over — but not for Hiroo Onoda. A lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army, Mr. Onoda spent an additional 29 years hiding in the jungle of an isolated Philippine island.
he Japanese government spent a small fortune trying to alert stragglers like Mr. Onoda about the war’s end, but he dismissed it as enemy propaganda. He stuck to his gun and headed back into the bush in the service of his emperor, bracing for an enemy that didn’t exist anymore.
For Mr. Onoda, who continued beyond belief to follow wartime orders, loyalty was not only blind but deaf.
He emerged in 1974, emaciated but still sporting what remained of his old uniform. Mr. Onoda, who died Jan. 16 at age 91, was the last Japanese soldier to come out of hiding in the Philippines, having survived through thievery, asceticism and undeviating will. He said he thought of “nothing but accomplishing my duty.”
To many Japanese at the time, he embodied prewar virtues of endurance, obedience and sacrifice — qualities that seemed increasingly antiquated as the country transformed from the devastation of war into an economic powerhouse and a hive of materialism.
At the time of Mr. Onoda’s surrender, the Japanese ambassador to the Philippines declared him the “paragon of the Japanese soldier.”
Other Japanese soldiers from World War II lived on for decades, guerrilla-style recluses in the jungles of Guam and Indonesia, but Mr. Onoda stirred the deepest emotional and nostalgic response. Many who stayed hidden for so long cited fear of execution, but Mr. Onoda remained committed to his mission of watching the skies for American bombers.
His orders: “To continue carrying out your mission even after the Japanese Army surrenders, no matter what happens.”
The cost was extreme. When he left the jungle at long last, he met a world where Richard M. Nixon was the U.S. president, where the Cold War and the nuclear age dominated politics, where skyscrapers towered, where television was inescapable. (He did not marvel at the small-screen technology, saying that it “irritates my eyes.”)
If he seemed lost in the new world, some circumstances of his youth seemed to have remained the same. He said he was restless when he returned at last to his home region in central Japan and settled in with his octogenarian parents, who had long believed him dead. He did not get along with them when he was a teenager, and time had not changed a thing, he said. He soon returned to isolation, this time as a rancher in Brazil.
A teacher’s son, Hiroo Onoda was born March 19, 1922, in Kainan, Japan. He completed high school in 1939 and worked for a Japanese trading firm before he was drafted into the army.
The Japanese invasion of the Philippines began shortly after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, and the islands’ occupation for the next several years led to atrocities that included the Bataan Death March. Mr. Onoda, a graduate of the imperial army’s intelligence school, was assigned to Lubang, an island about 90 miles southwest of Manila, in December 1944.
Just two months earlier, U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur had begun retaking the Philippines, starting with Leyte island. By March 1945, Manila was officially liberated, although scattered resistance continued until the war’s end.
Mr. Onoda and a few other soldiers went underground, waging a low-level guerrilla campaign while still in their old fatigues. One of the men surrendered a few years after the war. Others were killed in gun battles with the Philippine police — the last in 1972 — reinforcing Mr. Onoda’s belief, he said, that the war was still on.
As the decades passed, Mr. Onoda’s family made attempts, via loudspeaker and dropped leaflets, to persuade him to come out of hiding. He later professed to disbelieve the war was truly over: The blandishments to leave his post must be Allied propaganda.
But he got older and a life of banditry became more difficult. He seemed more amenable to reality when he crossed paths in February 1974 with a young Japanese adventurer, Norio Suzuki, who had gone in quixotic pursuit of Mr. Onoda.
As farfetched as his nearly 30 years in isolation seemed, Mr. Onoda explained his perspective to Suzuki: If the war were truly over, why had he never received orders from his superiors?
Suzuki took this message back to Japan, where the military located Mr. Onoda’s superior officer, former Maj. Yoshimi Taniguchi, who had gone on to a career as a bookseller, and arranged for his transport to Lubang.
Mr. Onoda stood at attention with his regulation army rifle as Taniguchi read out the imperial army’s proclamation of surrender from 1945.
As Time magazine reported of the “wartime Rip van Winkle,” Mr. Onoda “bowed stiffly in acknowledgment that his war was over — and then proceeded to brief his commander about his 29 years of intelligence gathered on ‘enemy movements.’ ”
Soon after, in Manila, the 52-year-old Mr. Onoda formally surrendered to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Mr. Onoda presented his rusted samurai sword, and Marcos returned it after pardoning the old soldier for crimes he may have committed. Mr. Onoda and the men with him admitted to stealing rice, bananas and cattle, and they were suspected of killing and wounding Filipinos who came upon the fugitive soldiers at various times.
Mr. Onoda’s story became a sensation. He received a hero’s welcome in Japan, where politicians have long paid tribute to nationalistic and militaristic traditions even as the country’s post-World War II constitution renounced war forever.
Thousands of onlookers welcomed him back to Tokyo. The Japanese prime minister, Kakuei Tanaka, wrote a celebratory message in Mr. Onoda’s honor: “The air of a heavenly hero will prove awesome through a thousand autumns.”
He was also feted in dubious corners of the world. The Ugandan dictator Idi Amin said Mr. Onoda’s dedication to a cause would make him an ideal morale-builder for Uganda’s army.
Mr. Onoda decamped for a ranching enclave in the Brazilian interior populated by dozens of Japanese families. In 1976, he married Machie Onuki, 38, a former tea-ceremony hostess from Tokyo.
They later led a school in northern Japan that taught wilderness survival skills to youngsters, who called Mr. Onoda “Uncle Jungle.”
He died at a hospital in Tokyo, the government announced. No cause was reported.
Mr. Onoda, whose ghostwritten memoir was called “No Surrender,” bemoaned what he called a lack of self-reliance among contemporary Japanese.
He once told Reuters that he advised parents to let their children play in the soil and dirt, even when it was raining.
“Too much concrete and cleanliness makes for weak children,” he said.
World War Two obituaries