Aurora veteran’s flag story published in Japan
By Denise Crosby email@example.com August 22, 2013 8:22PM
Updated: September 24, 2013 6:27AM
Ken Udstad could be three million times closer to returning the flag he took from the body of a dead Japanese soldier on the island of Tinian during World War II.
Last week a story about his quest, which we’ve been reporting for the past couple years, was published in a major Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun.
The paper has a circulation of a few million, so it’s no surprise that after the story ran Aug. 14, the 92-year-old Aurora man was inundated with emails and calls from people across the world, as well as this country, offering support for his mission.
That included an email from a tour guide on the Island of Tinian, where some 10,000 Japanese soldiers were killed, as well as 400 Americans.
Perhaps the former Marine’s best hope is through a not for profit called OBON 2015, whose sole purpose is to return all these flags to the families of the dead soldiers by August of 2015, the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.
According to the OBON 2015 website, the flags were given to each Japanese soldier as he headed off to war, each filled with written supportive messages from friends and family, and tucked inside the young man’s clothing as a reminder of home. But often these flags, called Yosegaki Hinomaru, were removed by American soldiers and Marines who considered them war souvenirs. There are around 1.3 million Japanese soldiers still missing in action, and these mementos, according to OBON 2015, are the only means of connecting families to their deceased loved ones.
Interestingly enough, the name of the soldier on Udstad’s flag is now known, said John Gaglione, an Aurora friend from Udstad’s church who is helping the old vet in his quest. But for whatever reason, the paper chose not to publish it.
What also surprised Udstad and Gaglione is that the Shimbun writer, who traveled to Aurora earlier this summer for a two-day interview with Udstad, started and ended the news article talking about the remorse the former Marine feels about removing the flag.
“At the age of 92, Kenneth Udstad felt a sense of guilt for his actions of nearly 70 years ago,” the story began. Later in the article, the writer again referred to Udstad “feeling a sense of guilt” that made him decide to return the items. And the story concludes with the writer saying if bereaved family members were found, “he would like to apologize to them.”
Udstad makes it clear that as much as he wants to return the flag, it’s not guilt that drives this task. Taking these war souvenirs — according to the news article, he also picked up a hat, watch, bullets, a gun and fan — was common practice on both sides.
It was “part of war,” said Udstad.
But of course unless you experienced that horror, especially when separated by generations and cultures, it’s hard to understand that distinction. I was present for a few hours of the interview that journalist Yoshiaki Kasuga conducted with Udstad. The 40-year-old writer was respectful and considerate, but there was no doubt he was pressing his Aurora interviewee to admit remorse.
None of which takes away from the goal, especially after Udstad learned how important these items are for surviving loved ones.
“It means a lot to my people,” wrote one man from Fukuyama, Hiroshima, who offered his help, “when a Japanese war flag goes back to his family.”
“We’re getting closer,” said Udstad, grateful for what has turned into an international mission. “It’s just a matter of time.”