WWII Veteran Returns Japanese Soldier's Flag to Family

Rodiano Bonacci
Agosto 16, 2017

Marvin Strombo made the journey from Montana to Higashishirakawa, Japan, in order to fulfill a promise he had made to himself when he took the flag from a dead soldier during the Battle of Saipan in 1944.

"I was so happy that I returned the flag", Strombo said.

"Looking at this flag, the signatures are very clear, and I can nearly smell my brother's skin from the flag", Tatsuya Yasue said, the Post reported.

Marvin Strombo knew the calligraphy-covered flag was more than a keepsake of the war.

The smell of the flag immediately brought back childhood memories to the soldier's younger brother. He told Yasue's siblings their brother likely died of a concussion from a mortar round.

A World War II veteran from the Inland Northwest traveled to a village in rural Japan Tuesday to personally return a "good luck flag" he picked up from the body of a fallen Japanese soldier on the Pacific island of Saipan in the summer of 1944. The Japanese authorities only gave them a wooden box containing a few rocks, a substitution for the remains that have never been found.

Strombo has said he also plans to explain to Yasue's relatives how their brother died. He said its return makes him feel like his brother "can come out of limbo".

Tatsuya Yasue last saw his older brother alive the day before he left for the South Pacific in 1943. At the end of the meeting, his brother whispered to Tatsuya, asking him to take good care of their parents, as he would be sent to the Pacific islands, harsh battlegrounds where chances of survival were low. About 20 years ago, Tatsuya Yasue visited Saipan with his younger brother, trying to imagine what their older brother might have gone through.

The remains of almost half of the 2.4 million Japanese war dead overseas have yet to be found.

Allied troops frequently took the flags from the bodies of their enemies as souvenirs, as Japanese flags were quite popular and fetched good prices when auctioned, Strombo said.

The flag and his story suggest Yasue died on the ground, raising hopes of retrieving his remains.

In 2012, he was connected to the Obon Society, an Oregon-based nonprofit that helps USA veterans and their descendants return Japanese flags to the families of fallen soldiers.

Tuesday's handover meant a closure for Strombo too.

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