After my parent’s divorce, Mom stayed in the Hudson Valley, New York region, in the house her uncle built in the early 1950s. Mom had inherited this house from her aunt, and by 2014 it had been in the family for over 60 years. Mom loved her home and didn’t ever want to leave, but she wasn’t getting any younger and none of us children lived near her anymore. In July 2014, she had a bad fall which landed her in the Hospital.
The doctors gave Mom an ultimatum; move in with her family or move into a nursing home. My sister Melinda, living in eastern Tennessee, urged Mom to move in with her and Mom reluctantly agreed, on the condition that we also moved all her belongings to Tennessee. We knew we’d have to clear the house anyway so we could sell it, as no one in the family was going to move back to New York. So our family started the process of clearing out a house that had been continuously lived in for over 60 years.
Over the next several months Melinda, her extended family, and I alternated trips up to Mom’s house to clear it out and make it ready to sell.
One of the several heavy pieces of furniture Mom owned was a “cedar chest,” a large wooden chest Mom had owned since before she had married Dad. She used her cedar chest to store her special mementos. None of us children were allowed to open it while growing up, and I doubt Mom opened it even once every several years. In early August, while in the process of helping move Mom’s belongings down to Tennessee, I opened her cedar chest for maybe the second time in my life and discovered something new about Dad’s military service.
While rummaging through treasures such as Mom’s high school yearbook (yes, really), dolls, and treasured keepsakes of her four children (including a few childhood trinkets of mine), I found what appeared to be an old WWII-era Japanese flag covered with Japanese writing. I immediately knew it had to have belonged to Dad, and knew it had important significance, but I had no idea how he acquired it or what the significance was.
I asked Mom, and she didn’t remember anything about it, other than to say “your dad must have left it there.” Before I left the house that weekend I took photos of the flag with the intent to research what it might represent.
I asked my cousin, and an Aunt and Uncle, if Dad had ever said anything about it. My cousin thought he had seen it once but knew nothing other than Dad had brought it home with him from the war. Knowing about dad’s time served in Japan, I guessed that this flag was related to his Japanese tour.
I found an e-mail address for the Hiroshima Peace Museum, located in Hiroshima, Japan, of “firstname.lastname@example.org.” On August 31, 2014, I sent an e-mail which included a photo of the flag. A representative of the museum promptly responded:
Dear Ron Charest,
Thank you for your email dated August 31, 2014, concerning the Japanese flag that belonged to your father.
Probably the original owner received this flag with hand-written messages when he was drafted into the military during World War II. We are not quite sure, but we guess this flag was given to Mr. [redacted] by the people of Uzuto Village, Mitsugi County, Hiroshima Prefecture.
For your information, I will share the URL of an organization that helps these flags returned to their families in Japan.
I hope this information helps, and if you need further assistance, please feel free to contact us.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
1-2 Nakajima-cho, Naka-ku, Hiroshima 730-0811 Japan
Tel: +81-82-241-4004, Fax: +81-82-542-7941
So, armed with this information, I checked out the OBON 2015 website and promptly discovered that Dad’s flag was called a “Yosegaki Hinomaru;” a flag carried by many Japanese soldiers during the war, signed by their family and loved ones for good luck and a speedy return. At some point during the war, American soldiers started collecting these flags from dead Japanese soldiers as war trophies.
This information helped explain the flag’s significance but didn’t explain how the apparent Japanese soldier appeared to have come from Hiroshima Prefecture. There still seemed to be a Hiroshima link to Dad. I next contacted OBON 2015, again including a photo of the flag, and again promptly received a reply.
Dear Ron Charest,
Thank you for contacting OBON 2015.
OBON 2015 is an independent, non-profit, humanitarian movement intent on returning personal items back to their families. There is no charge for our service.
Since we are sure you have many questions about OBON 2015 and about our search process, please let us know whether you prefer to communicate by email or telephone. We prefer a conversation so we can fully answer all your questions and explain our process. If you give us a phone number and convenient time, we will gladly give you a call.
Otherwise, we can explain as much as possible by email.
As soon as you let us know we can begin to move forward.
Thank you for your compassion; these items are extremely meaningful to their families in Japan.
Rex & Keiko Ziak
Now, more intrigued than before, I arranged a phone call with Rex and Keiko Ziak. We had our phone call on September 2, 2014, just a mere two days after my first contact with the Hiroshima Peace Museum.