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Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide

August 24,2017

73 years later, WWII veteran returns a fallen soldier’s family keepsake

returen flagA 93-year-old World War II veteran traveled more than 5,000 miles from his Montana home this month to return a treasured keepsake to a grateful Japanese family.

The NewsHour’s Julia Griffin explains.

JULIA GRIFFIN: Warm temperatures and rainy skies greeted Marvin Strombo as he returned to Japan this week for the first time in 73 years.

During the war, Strombo served as an elite sniper scouter with the 2nd Marine Division. Alone on the Japanese line during the 1944 invasion of Saipan, he came across the body of a dead Japanese soldier.

MARVIN STROMBO, World War II Veteran: I saw a Japanese soldier laying there. And I knew he was an officer because he had a sword on.

JULIA GRIFFIN: But Strombo also noticed something else, a customary flag the soldier carried, known as a yosegaki hinomaru, that bore 180 signatures of his family and village members.

Strombo knew such flags were given to departing soldiers as a symbol of good luck and support.

MARVIN STROMBO: I finally realized, if I didn’t take it, somebody else would have, and it would be lost forever. So, the only way I could do that, as I reached out to take the flag, I made a promise to him that, someday, I would try to return it.

JULIA GRIFFIN: For decades, the soldier’s identity remained unknown, until five years ago, when Strombo reached out to the Obon Society, a nonprofit that coordinates the return of battlefield souvenirs.

The group identified the soldier as Sadao Yasue, of Higashishirakawa, Japan. And on Tuesday, Strombo made good on his promise to return the ancestral heirloom, during an emotional ceremony with Yasue’s surviving brother and two sisters.

MARVIN STROMBO: It was a very emotional moment, really. I saw that the older sister — her holding that flag about broke my heart. And I have fulfilled a promise, which I’m happy about. I could see that it made them quite happy. So, I guess that’s the main thing.

JULIA GRIFFIN: The poignant event between one-time enemies and now friends coincided with the Japanese Obon holiday, when families return to their hometowns to remember departed loved ones.

Julia Griffin, for the PBS NewsHour.

Click here to watch the full report.