A mystery solved; local family seeks to return Japanese war relics home
Bob Mecl’s dad gave him two World War II-era Japanese flags when he was 5 years old. Now in his 60s, he has held onto them ever since. But now he says it’s time for them to go home.
Mecl’s dad worked at Allis-Chalmers (a U.S. machinery manufacturer) in West Allis, when he was given the two Japanese flags by a co-worker friend who was a U.S. Marine, Mecl said.
No one knows how the friend came to possess the flags. They do know he told Mecl’s dad that he fought in the Battle of Okinawa in Japan in 1945. Okinawa was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific theater of World War II. More than 200,000 people died, both soldiers and civilians alike. But like many who fought in the war and undoubtedly saw things that were beyond terrible, he didn’t talk about his experience or how he came to own the flags.
Through research and good luck, the Mecls have determined the significance of the flags, and to whom they rightfully belong.
The Mecls first brought the flags to Norma Scott, director of the Somerset Public Library, hoping she could point them in the direction of someone who could read Japanese. One of the flags is laden with Japanese signatures.
Scott connected them with Toshimi Krogmann of Somerset, who is originally from Japan; she was born in Osaka and moved to the United States in 1998.
“I hope there's a way of finding out more about the particulars behind this flag but I'm suspicious that there isn't,” Scott said in an email.
Scott also wrote to Antiques Roadshow appraiser Mark Moran, who told her the one flag is a “Yosegaki Hinomaru,” or a “good luck flag.”
“Many of these were signed by families, but some also bear notations from workers in the factories that produced the planes and weaponry used in the war,” Moran wrote.
Krogmann and her husband Kurt both agreed the one flag, without writing, is an old-style Japanese national flag that was outlawed after World War II. The other flag is a good luck flag with signatures and well wishes on a white background encircling the Japanese red, rising sun.
According to Kurt, many American soldiers took the flags out of dead Japanese soldiers’ pockets as souvenirs.
“They (Japanese soldiers) would wear them or carry them in their pockets into battle,” Kurt said. “They were kind of a good luck charm.”
The flag is made of a silky material roughly 2-feet by 3-feet. Toshimi, with help from a nonagenarian Japanese woman in Minneapolis named Yoko Breckenridge, determined the flag contained 30 signatures, 10 of which had the same last name. Since she couldn’t read some of the names due to the old-fashioned, and possibly out-of-date characters, Toshimi contacted Breckenridge and the Japanese embassy in Chicago for help.
“This one (flag) is really special because when they went to war, the family members worried they were never going to come back, that they would die,” Toshimi said. “Many people would sign a flag and give it to a soldier that is going to war as a prayer/good luck charm. This would always be carried on his body until death or the war ended.”
After being directed to the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum in Japan, Toshimi was told the name of the flag’s original owner was indeed on the flag; it was just hard to tell because of old-fashioned characters.
“Most times the names (of the owners) are bigger with a date,” Toshimi said.
The Memorial, which is similar to an American historical society, searched a database of about 244,000 deaths in the Okinawa battle, Toshimi said, and found two soldiers that matched the owner’s name: one in the prefecture of Kagawa, one in Ibaragi.
The soldier’s name was Noboru Kimura. He was born in September 1922 and died at the age of 23 on April 17, 1945, at the beginning of the Battle of Okinawa in Onnadake Kunigami - gun, Okinawa prefecture. He was an Army corporal in the 44th Battalion Airfield. The place where he died is now a U.S. Army base shooting range. How he died is unknown.
According to Toshimi, a man named Mr. Yamada of the Ibaragi prefecture has found a nephew of Kimura.
“Not everyone is excited to get these flags back,” Kurt said. “But the nephew is.”
Once Mr. Yamada gives the Mecls the nephew’s address, the flags will be on their way home, after almost 70 years.
“Last year, I was talking to a friend in Tennessee who wanted to auction them (the flags) off,” Mecl said. “I’m glad they found a home anyway. I just don’t think this stuff should be sold for money.”
Japanese Memorial Day
Toshimi said of the day: “We believe the people (who died) come back home that day and we pray.”
On Sept. 2, 1945, a formal surrender ceremony was performed in Tokyo Bay, Japan, aboard the battleship USS Missouri. In the U.S., Victory over Japan Day (also known as Victory in the Pacific Day, V-J Day, or V-P Day) is the name of the day Japan surrendered, basically ending World War II. Depending on time zones, this day is commemorated Aug. 14 or 15.
There is a group online called OBON 2015 dedicated to returning good luck flags, personal and spiritual belongings to families in Japan before the 70th anniversary next year.
For more information on the organization and “Yosegaki Hinomaru,” visit obon2015.com.