In 1944, U.S. Marine Marvin Strombo, deployed to the Pacific island of Saipan, found a Japanese flag on the body of a fallen Japanese soldier. On Tuesday, Strombo was able to return that flag to the brother and sisters of Sadao Yasue.
Strombo found the flag, covered with the signatures of 180 people from Yasue’s hometown of Higashi-Shirakaw wishing for his safe return. “Long-lasting fortune in battle,” the flag read at the top.
“I finally realized that if I didn’t take it, somebody else would have and it would be lost forever,” Strombo said in an interview. “So the only way I could do that, as I reached out to take the flag, I made a promise to him that some day I would try to return it.”
Strombo, 20 years old at the time and a part of a scout-sniping platoon, picked up the flag and brought it back the U.S. with him. For the past several decades, he displayed the flag in the glass-fronted gun cabinet in his home in Missoula, Montana.
Strombo recently traveled about 5,300 miles to the small Japanese village to return the flag to Sadao Yasue’s family.
“I had such a moment with your brother 73 years ago. I promised him one day I would return the flag to his family,” Strombo told the family, the Washington Post reported. “It took a long time, but I was able to bring the flag back to you, where it belongs.”
Sadao Yasue’s 89-year-old brother, Tatsuya Yasue, and 93-year-old sister, Sayoko Furuta, were overcome with emotion when they saw the flag.
“Looking at this flag, the signatures are very clear, and I can almost smell my brother’s skin from the flag,” Tatsuya Yasue said. “We know that you have kept it well for so long.”
“It smelled like my good old big brother, and it smelled like our mother’s home cooking we ate together,” Tatsuya Yasue added, according to the Associated Press. “The flag will be our treasure.”
“I was so happy that I returned the flag,” Strombo said. “I can see how much the flag meant to her. That almost made me cry … It meant everything in the world to her.”
Tatsuya Yasue said the last time he saw his brother was in 1943, one day before he left for the South Pacific to fight in the war. One year later, a wooden box containing stones arrived, signifying his death. Authorities told the family that he died on July 18, 1944, the same day Saipan fell.
“That’s all we were told about my brother. We never knew exactly when, where or how he died,” Tatsuya Yasue said.
Strombo said he found Sadao Yasue’s body on the outskirts of Garapan. He said he likely died of a concussion from a mortar round.
In 2012, Strombo was put in touch with non-profit group Obon Society, which helps veterans return Japanese flags to the families of fallen soldiers.