Base returns World War II flag to Japanese family
By Master Sgt. Val Gempis, Air Force Print News
/ Published August 10, 2004
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- A flag belonging to a fallen World War II Japanese soldier was returned to his family during a brief but emotional ceremony here Aug. 6.
Flags were considered traditional farewell gifts for Japanese soldiers going into battle.
Col. Mark Schissler, commander of the 374th Airlift Wing, handed the white silk flag covered with Japanese characters to Manshichi Saeki. His brother, Ippei Saeki, died fighting against American forces during the Battle of Okinawa on June 17, 1945.
“I’m grateful that we have the chance to bring a family of a Japanese soldier on base and present the flag to back to them,” Colonel Schissler said. “We’re deeply honored to pay tribute to their brother and all the warriors who lost their lives during the war.”
Mr. Saeki said that the last time he saw the flag was almost 60 years ago. Dozens of his brother’s friends and relatives had signed the 4-by-3 flag before he died in Okinawa. It was emblazoned with “Long Live the Warrior Spirit” at the top.
“Words cannot express how I feel today,” Mr. Saeki said through a translator. “I’m very thankful for the base for having this ceremony,”
The timing of the ceremony was very important for the Saeki family, a base spokeswoman said. The 60th anniversary of the death of a family member holds special meaning for Buddhists. After that landmark, many people believe a spirit can finally be laid to rest.
Mr. Saeki said he has only two photos of his brother, and the flag is an important addition.
“Having my brother’s flag will enable my family to console his spirit in a Japanese way,” he said.
The flag was taken to the United States after the war. California resident Jim Tarp said a U.S. serviceman gave the flag to his mother years ago. The flag was traced back to Yaho village, about 10 miles from Yokota Air Base, with the help of retired Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Shiroyama, who used to be stationed at the base. Colonel Shiroyama scanned the flag and sent it to Takahiro Ichikawa, an old friend and member of the 374th Security Forces Squadron here. The flag was traced through one of the signatures, the Yaho Village Third Youth Group, which identified the fallen warrior’s hometown.