GIFU, Japan — A U.S. World War II veteran on Tuesday returned a Japanese flag taken on the island of Saipan in 1944 to the family of a fallen Japanese soldier in Gifu Prefecture, central Japan.Marvin Strombo, 93, met the long-dead soldier Sadao Yasue’s younger brother Tatsuya, 89, and other family members in the village of Higashishirakawa and delivered them the flag, on which Yasue’s acquaintances and relatives had written their names.
“He was a reliable and kind brother. I feel like I can smell his scent because it has been kept in good condition,” Tatsuya said, as the family members repeatedly pressed their cheeks against the flag and shed tears.
Strombo told them that he believes Yasue was killed by the blast of a mortar attack as there were no noticeable wounds on his body and he had looked as if he were asleep.
He said he had promised to the dead Yasue to return the flag to his family and was glad to have kept his pledge after 73 years.
Japanese soldiers brought such flags to the battlefield as a good-luck charm, and Allied troops frequently took them from the bodies of fallen soldiers and brought them home as souvenirs of the war.
Strombo found the body of 25-year-old Yasue and the flag in Saipan while battling Japanese troops as a young Marine in July 1944.
His journey was realized through the support of the Obon Society, a nonprofit organization in the United States that helps veterans and their descendants return battlefield flags to the owners’ families, after his daughter contacted the society.
The society was able to find Yasue’s family through the writing on the flag.
It is believed that Strombo is the first U.S. veteran who has returned a flag to a Japanese family in person through the Obon Society.