Yuri Adachi, a Japanese exchange student attending Parish High School in Selma, Alabama commanded center stage as we waited to hear her translate the words inscribed on the Japanese flag.
I was about eight years old, but I remember the moment vividly, for it was remarkable in many ways.
Yuri’s face looked troubled. In a very serious tone she told us that the flag had been carried by a young Japanese soldier from Sanjo Japan, and that the flag also listed the names of his parents and loved ones, as well as the mayor of Sanjo, his hometown.
It was decided that Yuri could write a letter to the current mayor of Sanjo. In it, she would ask if he could determine if his parents or family still lived in Sanjo–and then efforts would begin to return the flag.
The endeavor is chronicled in the letters that were sent between Yuri, the Mayor of Sanjo, and Mr. Nelms, an old friend from Selma and the father of Yuri’s host family.
There are no letters from my father, but I suspect that there were very few–for in a wonderful way, to him the act of returning the flag was a non-event since it was merely the right thing to do, and therefore not worthy of any hoopla.
In a letter asking my father to bring the flag to Selma for a photo shoot with the paper, Jack Nelms, my father’s friend, writes with great understatement, ” I know you may not care for the publicity but….”
Indeed. No buts about it, Daddy was not happy about all of the fuss. The flag was a reminder to him of the sadness of war, and he had a dim view of the entire notion of soldiers who had taken flags from the bodies of fallen enemy soldiers to bring home as souvenirs.
Daddy had acquired the flag from another American soldier who had bet a bottle of liquor in a card game played in New Guinea–daddy won the hand, but had no use for the soldier’s alcohol since Daddy did not drink. Another soldier did drink, and did want the bottle, and gave daddy the flag for the liquor.
My father explained to me that he thought the circumstances were disrespectful and would be a dishonor to the mother of the fallen Japanese soldier–he did not want her to be insulted or further saddened, so he never spoke of them. All he told the reporter was that he was glad that there was no “war story” to tell regarding the young man’s death.
My father was a man of few words– and this was not an experience he wished to expound upon, he just wanted to do the right thing. He never liked commentators on television who blabbered about the news. His favorite newsman was David Brinkley, a man he favored both in appearance and in manner. I loved sitting with daddy and watching This Week on Sunday in our little den.
Below is the letter mailed to Yuri by the mayor of Sanjo after she sent the initial inquiry.
TRANSLATION OF LETTER SENT TO MISS YURI ADACHI FROM THE MAYOR OF SANJO, JAPAN, MR. ROKURO KANEKO:
Happy New Year–
I was deeply impressed by the affection of the people.
Congratulations on your wonderful experience as an exchange student. Indeed it is our joy to live in this generation where we can know of the world at home. It is difficult for you, born after the war, to imagine the hard resolution or feeling of the people during the war, which is no in vain.
Sun Rise Flag, which was shown you by the returned American soldier, was a parting gift which was signed by relatives and friends for the success of him in battle.
Mr. Sate was a Mayor of Sanjo from 1939 to 1943.
Shrine is still in the town as tutelary god.
The flag, I can imagine, was worn on the body of Mr. Watanabe till he fell down at battle. It will recall the memory and also renew the grief of his parents and brothers, however it is a precious gift for them.
Thank you so much for your wise treatment of it. I investigated immediately. Mr. Watanabe’s death was recorded. According to the registration, he was killed in 1945, and was 25 years old at the time. He had not yet married.
In his family there was his mother (70 years old) and ten male children. The first, fourth and fifth sons died in the war.
I have held the office of Mayor of Sanjo since 1957, and am willing to present the flag to his mother. I am sorry to bother you, but in order to get rid of the grief of the war, we should work together all over the world. I thank the American soldier for his sincerity and also desire his help heartily.
Next letter I will tell you everything about the treatment after getting the flag.
1. Please send me the flag.
2. Please let me know the American’s name, birthday, occupation, address, the story of how he acquired the flag at New Guinea, his rank and his picture.
It is snowing outside.
Please take good care of yourself.
Tomorrow I will post the letter that Mayor Kaneko mailed to my father after receiving the flag and presenting it to Mrs. Watanabe, as well as photos of the gift that he sent to my father from the city of Sanjo.