A U.S. naval museum is set to return a wartime Japanese soldier's flag to the family of its original owner nearly 78 years after the end of World War II, after removing it from the exhibition.
During a ceremony Thursday at the facility in Texas, which took place in the hangar of the Lexington, a decommissioned aircraft carrier, the flag of former soldier Shigeyoshi Mutsuda, who is now dead, was handed to an Oregon-based organization that helps find and deliver personal items lost during the war.
The Obon Society, represented by Rex Ziak and his wife Keiko, along with representatives of the Lexington museum, plan to return the Hinomaru flag, which bears a "good luck" message and some 90 "yosegaki" signatures from people close to him, to Mutsuda's family on July 29 in Tokyo.
The flags were typically signed by the friends and family of soldiers, before being taken to war as a good luck charm in wartime Japan.
According to the society, Mutsuda's flag was recently discovered to have belonged to him after his grandson compared old pictures of Shigeyoshi with his flag to the one displayed in the museum.
After joining the old Imperial Japanese military, Shigeyoshi left Gifu Prefecture for Saipan in 1943 or 1944, when he was 28.
Toshihiro Mutsuda, the 83-year-old son of Shigeyoshi, said, "I didn't imagine this miracle could happen. My mother would have been pleased if she was alive."
The museum has housed the flag since it was donated in 1994.
Steve Banta, the museum's executive director, said although they knew the flag "was an amazing artifact for commemorating Japan's service in the war, we did not know the significance to a specific family" until the society contacted them.
Over 500 such flags have been returned by the society to families and communities in Japan since its establishment in 2009.
Rex called the planned return of Mutsuda's flag the "most amazing and unexpected situation," as it was the first time a Japanese family has contacted the society after tracking down their relative's flag, and it has long been an exhibit in the former U.S. carrier that served in the Pacific during the war.
The society was created after Keiko's family received her grandfather's good luck flag from a Canadian collector in 2007. The experience led to Keiko and her husband Rex founding the organization in order to help bring keepsakes home to the families of fallen soldiers.