93-year-old Marvin Strombo never imagined the level of media attention his trip to Japan to return a lost Hinomaru heirloom flag would attract.
When Strombo was 19-years-old when he fought as a Marine in Saipan during World War II. Earlier this summer, and at age 93, Strombo performed one final mission of reconciliation – personally returning the lost heirloom he acquired while serving as a Marine to the awaiting family of Sadao Yasue, a Japanese Lance Corporal killed in action in Saipan in late June of 1944. When Strombo and fellow Marines came across Yasue’s body they found his Yosegaki Hinomaru.
Referred to as a “good luck flag” by American soldiers, the Japanese Hinomaru was often taken as a war souvenir from the fallen. The flag features the familiar white background and Rising Sun in the center and surrounded by Japanese characters. These flags were traditionally presented to a man prior to his deployment in the Japanese armed forces. Relatives, neighbors and friends would write their names along with good luck messages on the field of the flag.
“Taking the flag, kind of, bothered me because it’s so special that it’s like a part them. The memory has never left me” Strombo shared. “He had it tucked into his coat and I barely saw it. I just about didn’t take it, but then I thought – at least if I take it there would be a chance I could get it back to who it should belong.”
Strombo had long desired to return the flag, but didn’t know how to go about it. It wasn’t until visiting a Japanese and Culture class at the University of Montana last year that Strombo learned what the Japanese writing on the flag was and what the flags meant to the families of the fallen.
Strombo’s experience traveling to Japan to return the flag garnered national and international media attention, and the story has helped more families and veterans to connect with Obon Society to return lost artifacts.
Here is the story as it was covered by PBS News Hour: