A flag carried by a Japanese soldier who died in World War II was donated to a non-profit organization by the USS Lexington Museum in Texas on Thursday for return to the man’s family.
Known as the Lucky Flag, it is covered with the signatures of Shigeyoshi Mutsuda, his family and friends. The Corpus Christi Museum, where it was on display for 29 years, donated the flag to the Obon Society, a non-profit organization that has returned about 500 similar flags, called non-biological human remains, to the descendants of Japanese military personnel who fell during the war.
“That’s all that’s left of this man,” said Rex Ziak, co-founder of the Obon Society. “They feel just like Americans when they receive bones or teeth” from relatives identified and brought back decades after their deaths in the war, he said.
Hirofumi Murabayashi, Japanese consul-general in Houston, expressed appreciation for the museum’s willing handover of the flag, saying the handover symbolizes the friendship between the United States and Japan.
“He (Mutsuda) was killed in battle and his body has not been found…there are no remains,” Murabayashi said.
“The only remains will go back to the family” to be reunited with his wife, who died in May at the age of 102 but whose funeral has been postponed pending the return of the flag, Murabayashi said.
According to museum director Steve Banta, the flag, known as the Yosegaki Hinomaru, has been displayed at the museum aboard a World War II aircraft carrier since it was donated in 1994. He called the donations department and said the museum hadn’t been able to find out who gave the flag to the museum due to what he called record-keeping problems at the time.
Mutsuda’s signature on the flag was recognized by one of his sons, now 82, who saw an image of the flag and also recognized the signatures of other family members, friends and neighbors, confirming that the flag was carried by his father, according to Ziak.
The signatures match those in a family photo in which Mutsuda holds the flag and is surrounded by family members before going to war, Ziak said.
It is not known who found the flag and under what circumstances, Ziak said.
“Often soldiers search battlefields for sensitive information like maps, find flags and other items and collect them as souvenirs,” Ziak said.
The flags were easy to roll and carry, and soldiers brought them home “by the thousands” as souvenirs, Ziak said.
The story of how, or even where, such items were found is then often lost over time, Ziak says, as veterans return home and keep them until they are found after the military member’s death.
The flag will be returned to the two sons and daughter of Shigeyoshi Mutsuda in Tokyo later this month at a ceremony at a shrine to Japanese war dead in Tokyo.