Vet re­turns en­emy’s flag

Taken from body, WWII sol­dier now gives it to kin in Ja­pan

Ottawa Sun - - NEWS - — The As­so­ci­ated Press

PORT­LAND, Ore. — Mar­vin Strombo was be­hind Ja­panese en­emy lines on a Pa­cific is­land dur­ing the Sec­ond World War when he re­al­ized the other five men in his squadron had moved on with­out him.

The young U.S. Ma­rine, part of an elite scout-sniper pla­toon fight­ing a 1944 bat­tle on Saipan, ner­vously scanned the ter­rain.

He spot­ted a body on the ground, a dead Ja­panese sol­dier ly­ing on his left side.

The young man looked peace­ful, as if asleep, and some­thing white poked out from his jacket.

Strombo knelt and pulled out a silk flag, all the space around the bright red emperor’s sun filled with el­e­gant cal­lig­ra­phy.

He hes­i­tated, then took the flag and scram­bled to re­unite with his squadron as they en­tered the Ja­panese-held town of Gara­pan.

More than 70 years later, Strombo is re­turn­ing the Ja­panese flag to his fallen en­emy’s fam­ily.

The 93-year-old ar­rived Fri­day in Tokyo, the first stop in a 16,000-km journey into the re­mote moun­tain­side to bring the keep­sake back to the man’s home vil­lage — back to a brother and two sis­ters who could never say good­bye.

“I re­al­ized there were no bul­lets or shrap­nel wounds, so I knew he was killed by the blast of a mor­tar,” Strombo re­called in Port­land this week. Then, qui­etly: “I think that sol­dier wanted me to find him for some rea­son.”

The flags were a good-luck Mar­vin Strombo, right, and Rex Zika look at the Ja­panese flag Strombo took from a dead sol­dier more than 70 years ago. charm that linked Ja­panese sol­diers to their loved ones.

Some were signed by hun­dreds of class­mates, neigh­bours and rel­a­tives.

Al­lied troops fre­quently took them from the bod­ies of their en­e­mies as sou­venirs.

For Strombo, the flag hung in a glass-fronted gun cab­i­net in his home in Mon­tana for years, a topic of con­ver­sa­tion for vis­i­tors and a cu­rios­ity for his four chil­dren.

He never spoke about his role in the bat­tles of Saipan, Tarawa and Tinian, which chipped away at Ja­pan’s con­trol of is­lands in the Pa­cific and paved the way for U.S. vic­tory.

In 2012, the son of Strombo’s for­mer com­mand­ing of­fi­cer con­tacted him about a book he was writ­ing on the pla­toon.

Through him, Strombo reached out to the Obon So­ci­ety, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion in Ore­gon that helps U.S. veter­ans and their de­scen­dants re­turn Ja­panese flags to the fam­i­lies of fallen sol­diers.

Within a week, re­searchers found it be­longed to Ya­sue Sadao.

They traced the cor­po­ral to a tea-grow­ing vil­lage of about 2,400 peo­ple in the moun­tains roughly 340 km west of Tokyo.

Seven of the orig­i­nal sig­na­to­ries of the flag are still alive, in­clud­ing Ya­sue’s 89-year-old brother and two sis­ters.

When re­searchers con­tacted Ya­sue’s brother, he asked whether the per­son who had his brother’s flag was the same one who found it so many years ago, said Rex Ziak, who co-founded the Obon So­ci­ety.

“Then he asked, ‘Do you imag­ine he knows how my brother died and where he died?’ ” Ziak said. “And that’s when we re­al­ized that this per­son is very much alive in that fam­ily and this mys­tery of what hap­pened to him is very much alive.”

Strombo is the only per­son who can pro­vide those an­swers.

The Obon So­ci­ety be­lieves thou­sands of sim­i­lar flags are likely hid­den in at­tics across the U.S. that could give an­swers to count­less other fam­i­lies.

Strombo will be the first WWII vet­eran to re­turn a flag in per­son to a Ja­panese fam­ily through the Obon So­ci­ety.

“It got so I kind of wanted to meet the fam­ily, you know,” he said, his voice grow­ing raspy. “I know it means so much to them.”

DON RYAN/AP

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