On Saturday, when the flag was returned to him from a US war museum where it had been on display for 29 years, Mutsuda, now 83, said: “It’s a miracle.”
The flag, known as ‘Yosegaki Hinomaru,’ or Good Luck Flag, carries the soldier’s name, Shigeyoshi Mutsuda, and the signatures of his relatives, friends and neighbours wishing him luck. It was given to him before he was drafted by the Army. His family was later told he died in Saipan, but his remains were never returned.
The flag was donated in 1994 and displayed at the museum aboard the USS Lexington, a WWII aircraft carrier, in Corpus Christi, Texas. Its meaning was not known until it was identified by the family earlier this year, said the museum director Steve Banta, who brought the flag to Tokyo.
Banta said he learned the story behind the flag earlier this year when he was contacted by the Obon Society, a non-profit organisation that has returned about 500 similar flags as non-biological remains, to the descendants of Japanese service members killed in the war. The search for the flag’s original owner started in April when a museum visitor took a photo and asked an expert about the description that it had belonged to a “kamikaze” suicide pilot.
When Shigeyoshi Mutsuda’s grandson saw the photo, he sought help from the Obon Society, group co-founder Keiko Ziak said. “When we learned all of this, and that the family would like to have the flag, we knew immediately that the flag did not belong to us,” Banta said at the handover ceremony.