Dad’s Yosegaki Hinomaru

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A New Mystery

As promised, Rex Ziak stayed in touch with me over the next several months. On January 6, 2015, I received an e-mail explaining their success at locating a family member of the owner. The e-mail read

Hello Mr. Charest,

We have news about the flag you sent to us.

Our scholars in Japan have worked extremely hard and were fortunate to have been able to connect the dots very quickly. They have found the family that belongs to your flag.

One of our associates in Japan has had a phone conversation with a neighbor living in that neighborhood who led them to the correct family, which happens to be an elder brother of the deceased soldier. Our associate had a direct conversation with that elder brother’s wife, who is in very good health and strength.

They very much want this item returned to them!

The information we received from the neighbor and wife has filled in more details. Apparently, this man (the younger brother) did, in fact, survive the war and returned home. However, apparently soon after returning he died in the streets. The elder brother was in Siberia during the war….and was probably held there as part of the Russian forced labor policy.

This neighbor, looking at pictures of the flag, identified many names of people he knew, and in addition to that, he noticed the signature of the Father of this soldier.

We will give you more information as this unfolds but wanted you to know what has happened in the past couple hours.

Sincerely,

Rex & Keiko Ziak
OBON 2015
P.O. Box 282
Astoria, Oregon 97103
(360) 484-3491

I acknowledged their e-mail, and several days later received a follow-up:

Dear Ron Charest,

Your father’s flag is on its way to the soldier’s older brother’s house.
They requested to receive the flag directly to their home.

Older brother came back from Siberia and couldn’t remember anything about the detail of his younger brother. As we mentioned earlier, the younger brother (owner of the flag) had survived the war…returned home…and died in the streets.

When the flag is returned they will question elderly neighbors to see if anyone recalls more details about the young man or the circumstances of his death.

Anyway, finally, your father’s flag found the home where it belongs.

Thank you so much for you and your family’s generous heart.

Sincerely,

Rex & Keiko Ziak

So that was it. A few weeks later Rex again contacted me and offered me the opportunity to write a brief narrative of Dad’s Yosegaki Hinomaru for OBON 2015’s monthly newsletter, which I happily accepted. I never received any follow-up about what neighbors of the Yosegaki Hinomaru owner might have remembered, which disappointed me but didn’t overly surprise me.

I still receive monthly newsletters from OBON 2015, and occasionally view their website. I’ve made a mental note that if I ever find myself in the vicinity of Astoria, Oregon, I need to try and meet Rex and Keiko Ziak. They are doing some extraordinary work for no personal financial gain, and I respect their efforts.

But I’m left simultaneously with mixed feelings of disappointment, relief, loss, and awe. I’ve also learned something about a small bit of post-WWII history which reinforced my personal insight into war.

I learned that Russia held Japanese POWs long after Japan surrendered. Russia stayed out of the war with Japan until the atomic bombs were dropped, then grabbed as much as they could immediately afterward. This included capturing Japanese soldiers surrendering in China, who were then used as forced laborers within Russia for many years. This, apparently, was how the older brother of the Yosegaki Hinomaru’s owner came to spend years of quality time in Siberia. 

When a war ends people don’t go back to living happily ever after while the film credits roll and the audience streams out of the theater. After the war, the lives of survivors are forever changed and things never go back to “the way they were before.” The people who suffer the most are the people with the least ability to control the direction of their nation.

Knowing that the owner of this Yosegaki Hinomaru survived and returned home from combat just deepens the mystery of how Dad acquired it. I feel a sense of disappointment that I didn’t learn the full answer, but I also feel relief knowing that Dad didn’t take it from a dead Japanese soldier. 

So I’m left with questions; How did Dad acquire this man’s Yosegaki Hinomaru? Why didn’t Dad ever tell us about it or tell us how he acquired it? Was acquiring this Yosegaki Hinomaru related to acquiring his Japanese rifle? More importantly; what did Dad experience in Japan, and specifically in Hiroshima, that he would never talk about? 

I want to think Dad befriended this man, the owner of the Yosegaki Hinomaru, during Dad’s time in Japan. I want to think Dad provided some personal assistance to this man and his family, and the man gave Dad his Yosegaki Hinomaru, and perhaps the rifle, as a token of thanks from one soldier to another. Or, Dad may have simply traded some rations in exchange for the Yosegaki Hinomaru and rifle. I’ll never know for sure. 

My sense of loss came from giving up a tangible piece of our family history, of letting go a tangible memento of Dad’s army service.  While I felt a sense of loss in giving back the Yosegaki Hinomaru, I’m not sorry I did. It was not something we should have kept. I have to wonder if Dad’s spirit rests a bit easier knowing this item was returned. 

But I am left with a feeling of awe that I had a chance to be a small part of WWII history. 

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