Marvin Strombo, a U.S. Marine veteran who served during World War II, has traveled half way around the world to return a flag he took from the body of a fallen enemy soldier 73 years ago.
Strombo, who served in the Pacific during the war, traveled to a remote Japanese village to return the calligraphy-covered flag to the soldier’s family. Before that moment, Sadao Yasue’s family had never recovered any of his possessions, including his body.
Yasue’s sister, 93-year-old Sayoko Furata, wept as Strombo returned the artifact more than seven decades after the Japanese soldier was killed.
Reaching out to comfort the sister, Strombo said, “I was so happy that I returned the flag. I can see how much the flag meant to her. That almost made me cry … It meant everything in the world to her.”
Covering the Japanese flag were 180 signatures and messages from Yasue’s fellow villagers wishing him well and hoping for a safe return. In fact, it was those signatures that helped Strombo track down the flag’s rightful owners.
“Good luck forever at the battlefield,” reads one of the many messages.
Never knowing for sure what happened to their brother, for Yasue’s family, the flag represents a sense of closure.
“It’s like the war has finally ended and my brother can come out of limbo,” said Tatsuya Yasue, Sadao Yasue’s 89-year-old younger brother. Tatsuya Yasue last saw his older brother alive the day before he left for the South Pacific in 1943.
Sadao Yasue’s family was given very little information about his death. They didn’t know exactly where or when he died. Strombo helped fill in some of the missing pieces. He told the siblings that he found Sadao Yasue’s body on the outskirts of Garapan, a village in Saipan, when he got lost and ended up near the Japanese frontline.
He said their brother likely died of a concussion from a mortar round. He told them that Sadao was lying on the ground on his left side, looking peacefully as if he was sleeping and without severe wounds. The remains of nearly half of the 2.4 million Japanese war dead overseas have yet to be found.