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Base returns World War II flag to Japanese family

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Col. Mark Schissler (left) returns a Japanese flag to Manshichi Saeki during a ceremony here Aug. 6.  The flag belonged to Mr. Saeki's older brother who died fighting against American forces during World War II.  Colonel Schissler is commander of the 374th Airlift Wing.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Col. Mark Schissler (left) returns a Japanese flag to Manshichi Saeki during a ceremony here Aug. 6. The flag belonged to Mr. Saeki's older brother who died fighting against American forces during World War II. Colonel Schissler is commander of the 374th Airlift Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- A flag belonging to Ippei Saeki, a Japanese soldier who died fighting against American forces during World War II, was returned to his family during a ceremony here Aug. 6.  The flag was signed and given Mr. Saeki by his friends and relatives before he went off to fight in the war.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- A flag belonging to Ippei Saeki, a Japanese soldier who died fighting against American forces during World War II, was returned to his family during a ceremony here Aug. 6. The flag was signed and given Mr. Saeki by his friends and relatives before he went off to fight in the war. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Manshichi Saeki holds a picture of his older brother, Ippei, a Japanese soldier who died fighting against American forces during World War II.  A Japanese flag signed and given to the warrior by his friends and relatives before he died was presented to Mr. Saeki during a ceremony here Aug. 6.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Manshichi Saeki holds a picture of his older brother, Ippei, a Japanese soldier who died fighting against American forces during World War II. A Japanese flag signed and given to the warrior by his friends and relatives before he died was presented to Mr. Saeki during a ceremony here Aug. 6. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Airmen from the 374th Airlift Wing Honor Guard fold a Japanese flag belonging to Ippei Saeki who died fighting against American forces during World War II.  The flag was presented to his younger brother during a ceremony here Aug. 6.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Airmen from the 374th Airlift Wing Honor Guard fold a Japanese flag belonging to Ippei Saeki who died fighting against American forces during World War II. The flag was presented to his younger brother during a ceremony here Aug. 6. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Val Gempis)

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.

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