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Rick Fair, operations manager for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s Yokota Community Center and son of a former Army colonel, wants to return a Japanese flag his father brought back from World War II, reportedly from Mindanao, Philippines.

Rick Fair, operations manager for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s Yokota Community Center and son of a former Army colonel, wants to return a Japanese flag his father brought back from World War II, reportedly from Mindanao, Philippines. (Vince Little / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Growing up, Rick Fair had seen the Japanese flag his Army father brought home from World War II but didn’t know much about it.

“As a kid going through Dad’s foot locker, I’d pick it up,” Fair recalls. “It was never handled much and always rolled up in paper. I’d ask him, ‘Don’t you want to frame this?’ He’d say, ‘No, I don’t.’ I didn’t argue.”

During a 31-year career, Col. Leland B. Fair of Chillicothe, Mo., was highly decorated. His many awards included the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit and Purple Heart. But like many veterans, he didn’t talk a whole lot about the things he’d seen in battle.

Fair died in March 2002 at age 79 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. When he saw his son a final time the previous year, he made one wish clear.

“He wanted the flag returned to the family,” Fair said.

Fair, operations manager for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s Yokota Community Center, suspects his father brought the flag back from Mindanao, Philippines. Japanese soldiers often wore the flags underneath their uniforms and around the waist, believing they provided a form of spiritual protection.

The silk cloth, a white banner emblazoned with the large, red circle symbolizing Japan as the land of the rising run, is inscribed in kanji and dated May 8, 1944. It carries dirt stains but otherwise is well-preserved. Under the words “Kill Enemy Quickly,” about 60 people left names and messages congratulating Shotaro Asano for joining the Japanese Imperial Army.

Fair said he recently consulted a nonprofit organization dedicated to returning World War II-era mementos to Japanese families. The group arranged a June 17 news conference in nearby Tachikawa, where Fair displayed the flag in hopes of developing leads — but he says he’s received few so far.

“All it’s basically got is names written on it,” he said. “On some flags, they indicated a place of business where they worked and maybe an address or location. With names only, they said it will be tougher to find the family.”

Mieko Morita, a 374th Airlift Wing spokeswoman, said “Asano” is a very common name in Japan. Base officials are exploring how they might be able to help search, she added.

“It’s important to me that I do this for my father,” Fair said. “It now being 60 years after the war ended … would be an excellent time to recognize these guys. They weren’t a country or nation. They were soldiers, just men called to do a job, and they went and did it.”

In August, the flag of a Japanese soldier killed in the Battle of Okinawa on June 17, 1945, was returned to the soldier’s brother during an emotional ceremony at Yokota.

Fair said he’d love to take part in such a ceremony, for his father and to honor the memory of Shotaro Asano.

“This guy had a mother, father, sister, family, friends. If I can’t find his family, I’ll make sure this flag stays here in Japan — one way or another,” Fair said. “But it would be ideal to have a ceremony. Shake hands with the family and say, ‘We’ve come a long way and we’re all here together now as friends.’ That’d be good closure.”


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