Japanese siblings accept WWII soldier's flag from U.S. veteran

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An American World War II veteran has traveled to Japan to return a keepsake to the family of a fallen Japanese soldier. That nearly made me cry. About 20 years ago, Tatsuya Yasue visited Saipan with his younger brother, trying to imagine what their older brother might have gone through.

It turned out to be a lovely silk Japanese flag with Japanese writing all over it.

Strombo, right, holds the flag during a press conference in Tokyo. It was a treasure that would fill a void for the dead man's family.

A year later, Japanese authorities sent the family a wooden box with a few stones at the bottom - a substitute for his body.

Tatsuya Yasue, the 89-year-old younger brother of the soldier, thanked Strombo for thinking about returning the flag for more than 70 years while keeping it in good shape, with all writings still clear and readable. He told Yasue's siblings their brother likely died of a concussion from a mortar round.

Strombo said Tuesday that he originally wanted the flag as a souvenir from the war, but he felt guilty taking it, so he never sold it and vowed to one day return it.

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At least the flag and his story suggest Yasue died on the ground, which also raises hopes of retrieving his remains.

The remains of almost half of the 2.4 million Japanese war dead overseas have yet to be found.

Now, 93 years old, Strombo flew from Portland, Oregon to Tokyo on August 11 to return the flag to the dead soldier's surviving siblings.

The Associated Press reports Japanese soldiers used the flags as good-luck charms, and they were often signed by classmates, neighbors and relatives. But to the Japanese bereaved families, they have a much deeper meaning, especially those, like Yasue, who never learned how their loved ones died and never received remains. He was 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 USA victory.

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 group's research traced it to the tea-growing village of 2,300 people in central Japan by analyzing family names.

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