Support our mission
Col Mark Schissler, at left, commander of the 374th Air Wing at Yokota Air Base returns a Japanese flag to Manshichi Saeki during a ceremony in front of the headquarters building. The flag belongs to Ippei Saeki, younger brother of Manshichi, who died fighting against American forces during World War II almost 60 years ago.

Col Mark Schissler, at left, commander of the 374th Air Wing at Yokota Air Base returns a Japanese flag to Manshichi Saeki during a ceremony in front of the headquarters building. The flag belongs to Ippei Saeki, younger brother of Manshichi, who died fighting against American forces during World War II almost 60 years ago. (Courtesy of USAF)

Col Mark Schissler, at left, commander of the 374th Air Wing at Yokota Air Base returns a Japanese flag to Manshichi Saeki during a ceremony in front of the headquarters building. The flag belongs to Ippei Saeki, younger brother of Manshichi, who died fighting against American forces during World War II almost 60 years ago.

Col Mark Schissler, at left, commander of the 374th Air Wing at Yokota Air Base returns a Japanese flag to Manshichi Saeki during a ceremony in front of the headquarters building. The flag belongs to Ippei Saeki, younger brother of Manshichi, who died fighting against American forces during World War II almost 60 years ago. (Courtesy of USAF)

Col Mark Schissler, at left, commander of the 374th Air Wing at Yokota Air Base returns a Japanese flag to Manshichi Saeki during a ceremony in front of the headquarters building. The flag belongs to Ippei Saeki, younger brother of Manshichi, who died fighting against American forces during World War II almost 60 years ago. The flag, which was signed and given to Ippei by his friends and relatives before he died, was brought to the United States after the war. It was traced back to his hometown about 15 miles from Yokota.

Col Mark Schissler, at left, commander of the 374th Air Wing at Yokota Air Base returns a Japanese flag to Manshichi Saeki during a ceremony in front of the headquarters building. The flag belongs to Ippei Saeki, younger brother of Manshichi, who died fighting against American forces during World War II almost 60 years ago. The flag, which was signed and given to Ippei by his friends and relatives before he died, was brought to the United States after the war. It was traced back to his hometown about 15 miles from Yokota. (Courtesy of USAF)

The U.S. Air Force returned a Japanese flag to Manshichi Saeki during a ceremony in front of the Yokota Air Base headquarters building on Friday. The flag belonged to Ippei Saeki, younger brother of Manshichi, who died fighting against American forces during World War II almost 60 years ago. Manshichi Ippei together with some of his brother's surviving friends attended the brief but solemn ceremony.

The U.S. Air Force returned a Japanese flag to Manshichi Saeki during a ceremony in front of the Yokota Air Base headquarters building on Friday. The flag belonged to Ippei Saeki, younger brother of Manshichi, who died fighting against American forces during World War II almost 60 years ago. Manshichi Ippei together with some of his brother's surviving friends attended the brief but solemn ceremony. (Courtesy of USAF)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — It had been 60 years since Manshichi Saeki last touched the piece of silk cloth, a white banner emblazoned with a large, red circle symbolizing Japan as the land of the rising sun.

Under the words “Long Live the Warrior,” inscribed in kanji, Saeki and dozens more had signed the small flag and presented it to his brother, Ippei, a 21-year-old Japanese soldier headed off to fight in World War II.

Ippei lost his life in the Battle of Okinawa on June 17, 1945. Friday, the flag he carried was returned to his family in an emotional ceremony outside the 374th Airlift Wing headquarters building.

“I cannot find words to describe how I feel,” Manshichi Saeki said through a translator.

“I have only two pictures of my older brother. Because I have the flag again, I think I can console his spirit now.”

Flags were considered traditional farewell gifts for Japanese men going into war. Ippei Saeki received his in a village called Yaho, about 10 miles from where Yokota sits today.

After the war, a U.S. soldier gave the flag to Betty Wilson Tarp, a California woman. Her son, Jim, always wondered about its origin and recently managed to track it down through a friend, retired Air Force Col. Brian Shiroyama, who had been stationed at Yokota.

In mid-June, Shiroyama sent a digital scan of the flag to Takahiro Ichikawa, an old friend who worked for the 374th Security Forces Squadron. Ichikawa was able to identify the soldier and his village, now part of Kunitachi City, so he contacted officials there.

Two days later, they located the family and informed Manshichi Saeki the flag had been found.

“It didn’t take too long to find the family, but it’s like a miracle,” Ichikawa said. “I’m so happy, because the flag is returning to where it belongs.”

Col. Mark Schissler, 374th Airlift Wing commander, conducted Friday’s ceremony and offered the flag back to Saeki.

“Ippei Saeki embodied the Samurai spirit as a young warrior and he died in the most honorable way: serving his country and protecting his very homeland,” Schissler told the crowd. “By this ceremony, we honor his memory and service.

“A mere 60 years ago, our two countries were the fiercest of enemies but today are crucial partners and the strongest allies the world can know. Today’s ceremony reflects that fact: how two nations have overcome great fear and hatred to embrace freedom and humanity together. As a result of that progress, we’ve come to enjoy shared peace and certain prosperity that is unmatched anywhere else in our world.”

The 60th anniversary of a family member’s death holds special meaning for Buddhists, said Mieko Morita, a Yokota spokeswoman. After that landmark, many believe a spirit can truly be laid to rest.

The timing of Friday’s ceremony was significant for Saeki, the youngest of nine siblings. He recalled his older brother as a “very big, muscular man” who had a warm, kind disposition.

“After getting this flag, I want to console his spirit in the Japanese way,” he said. “I’m so thankful to the base for having this ceremony. I felt very warm hospitality from everyone here.”

Schissler said he relished the opportunity to host such a moving event.

“I’m very grateful we had the chance to bring a Japanese family here and honor their brother who died,” he said afterward. “It’s interesting to note he died fighting against U.S. forces, but we’re all friends today.

“That’s pretty amazing progress in 60 years.”


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up