'Good luck' flag found in donated book, returned to family of Japanese WWII soldier
By SANDY SCARMACK | The Herald, Sharon, Pa. | Published: June 4, 2015
SHARON (Tribune News Service) — Tucked inside an old book on World War II, and more than likely forgotten, a neatly folded Japanese "good luck" flag was dropped off at the Sharon Salvation Army sometime last fall.
It went unnoticed inside the book for several months, until a volunteer in the Fisher Hill agency's store found it as she put the book out for sale.
Store manager Valerie Graham said she had no idea if the flag was of any value and decided to do some research. She and her husband, Randy, searched online and discovered the 18-by-24-inch flag was fairly common among the belongings of veterans who served in the Pacific during the war.
"Apparently they would take the flag from the dead Japanese soldier as a sort of souvenir," she said, adding that she found others that were for sale on eBay for about $100.
The flags, called Yosegaki Hinomaru, were given in an elaborate ceremony to Japanese soldiers heading off to war, the white background and red circle signed by family and friends of the soldier.
According to a book written by veteran Sid Phillips, called "You'll be Sor-ree," "for the military man stationed far away from home and loved ones, the flag offered communal hopes and prayers to the owner every time the flag was unfolded. It was believed that the flag, with its many signatures and slogans of good luck, would provide a combined force or power to see its owner through tough times. Furthermore, it reminded him in a material way to do his duty. The performance of that duty meant that the warrior was not expected to return home from battle. Great honor was brought upon the family of those whose sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers died in the service of country and Emperor."
She learned about OBON 2015, an organization with the mission to return "good luck flags" to their families in Japan. According to information on the OBON website, the American embassy in Tokyo wrote a letter to OBON 2015 declaring "OBON 2015 continues President Kennedy's spirit of reconciliation and friendship." As of May 2015 they have returned 30 flags and have more than 65 other flags they are working on returning.
Graham sent the flag to the group, she said, where they determined it was authentic, and on May 19, she was told the flag's owner had been identified.
It came from a Japanese soldier named Saburo Tanaka and had 24 signatures on it and in the right bottom corner the words "Yuasa Soy Sauce Limited" located in the Wakayama prefecture, according to OBON 2015.
An e-mail from Rex and Keiko Ziak, members of OBON 2015, said, "The details are still coming in, but what we now know is our associates have been in conversation with the younger sister of the soldier, who is in a care facility. We were told she cried with joy when she heard the news of her brother's flag. She very much wants it returned to her."
"In every flag we have returned thus far," Ziak wrote, "these have been the only trace of that person that ever reached the family. Thank you for your generous heart."
The flag will be one of 70 returned this year, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Graham said this is the first time a flag like that was found, but in her seven years at the store, she's seen some strange donations.
"Like a coffin. A small one, maybe a child's or animals, all lined in silk. It was too creepy though and I think we just got rid of it," she said. "And we've had people donate sinks and toilets and some pretty odd things you wouldn't expect," she said.
Usual donations are of used clothing or furniture, but even those lend surprises. "You'd be amazed at the number of designer labels we get. A lot of them," she said.
There is no "typical" customer at the thrift store, she said. "We get people with very low income to people with very high income. A lot of our regulars are sellers on eBay."
And though the intent is to make money to help support the Salvation Army and its programs, Graham said they don't always sell everything, and sometimes try to "make things right."
She recalled a time when a man dropped off his daughter's belongings, including her graduation cap and gown, her medical papers and her bank debit card. "Apparently they had a falling out and he dumped all her stuff when he kicked her out," she said.
They were able to track down the woman and return her stuff to her, especially her debit card, she said.
As far as the flag, selling it didn't seem right, Graham said.
"It wasn't something a Christian organization should do," she said.
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