DAYTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — The flag sat in a filing cabinet for 70 years, faded and forgotten.
“The colors were bright at one time but the salt water, I think, bleached them out,” Peter Losh said, running his hand over the Japanese fisherman’s flag, retrieved from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean near the end of the second World War.
Losh was a recent Chaminade High School graduate, working at WHIO radio, when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. Soon after, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served as a yeoman for almost four years and was part of the original crew aboard the USS Essex — an aircraft carrier that earned 13 battle stars and survived an attack by Japanese kamikaze aircraft.
Losh came back to Dayton with several “war souvenirs:” PTSD, then undiagnosable; a headband, taken from one of thousands of bodies washed ashore after the battle at Saipan, and the flag.
“There was a Japanese ship, sunk in about one hundred feet of water,” Losh said, remembering the day it came into his possession. “Our diver went down and saw the flag, floating in the water off the mast of the ship. He grabbed it, brought it up and handed it to me for no reason at all. When they dried it out I said ‘Wow, I don’t know what it says, but it’s kind of pretty.’”
The flag found a new home in Losh’s filing cabinet after the war — where it lived until very recently, when a friend convinced Losh to contact the Japanese about the flag. One phone call set a search for the family that once owned the sunken ship it came from into motion and, last week, it began its journey home to the Miyagi Prefecture in Japan.
“It’s not often that we receive these kind of inquiries and it’s very rare that we find the original owner,” said Ken Hoshimoto from the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit. Hoshimoto drove to St. Leonard in Centerville, where Losh lives, to pick the flag up July 9.
“We still see many people facing difficulties,” Hoshimoto said, referring to the tsunami that devastated the Miyagi Prefecture in 2012. “I hope this kind of good news brings them hope and understanding that people around the world care for them.”
For Losh, the meeting was just one more way of overcoming four of the most difficult years of his life — a war that killed over one million Japanese and hundreds of thousands of Americans in the Pacific. His art did the rest.
“Those were not happy days, as you know,” he said. But his painting of the USS Essex, flanked by destroyers, is propped against the wall in his studio at St. Leonard’s beside snowy scenes from Ohio 73 and a portrait of his mother. It is a part of his life; it did not become his life.
The flag will be presented to the fisherman’s family by an American consul when it arrives in Japan. While many years have passed since the end of the war, and the color on the flag has faded, the Japanese consul reassured Losh that the meaning of his gesture has not.
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