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PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - In a gesture of friendship and goodwill, Rear Adm. James F. Caldwell, commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, returned a Japanese good luck flag belonging to a World War II Imperial Japanese soldier, July 26.
Caldwell returned the flag to Consul General of Japan, Toyoei Shigeeda, at the Consulate-General of Japan at Honolulu. The flag was previously in the possession of Caldwell's great uncle, Capt. (ret.) Jay V. Chase, a World War II U.S. naval officer.
A hinomaru yosegaki, or good luck flag, was a traditional gift for Japanese servicemen, signed by friends, family and co-workers, before he left for his military duty during World War II. The flag would typically be held close to the body as a keepsake with messages of encouragement and patriotism.
"It's remarkable to think about the relationship that existed when this flag was signed as compared to today, it's incredible," Caldwell said.
Caldwell asked Consul General Shigeeda to return the flag to a relative of the soldier if possible, or to the mayor of the city where the flag originated. Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare will receive the flag and attempt to either track down the family members or return it to the soldier's hometown.
Consul General Shigeeda was moved by the flag's return and noted the importance of gestures like this between the U.S. and Japan who were once enemies but are now close allies in the Asia-Pacific.
"Today I thank you for your invaluable support, and I express my feelings when I encounter this Japanese flag. All I can say is welcome back to Japan," Shigeeda said. "Seventy years later this flag can finally be handed over to the family."
As was the tradition, the flag was signed by the soldier's family, friends, and the mayor of the town with short messages of good luck before he left for his military duty. Caldwell, noted that most of the time flags were given to soldiers with the expectation that they wouldn't return, and for him it never felt right to keep it.
"This flag didn't rightfully belong to me, it belongs to the town or the family," Caldwell said. "It's meaningful to Japan, it's meaningful to the town, and it's meaningful to the family of the soldier to who it belonged."
Caldwell didn't know how his great uncle received the flag, but he is sure that his great uncle would be happy to know that it will hopefully be returned to the soldier's family members.
"My great uncle was a good man, and although World War II was hard on him, I know he would want the family to have the flag," Caldwell said.
The Pacific Submarine Force provides anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, precision land strike, mine warfare, intelligence surveillance and early warning and special warfare capabilities to the U.S. Pacific Command and strategic deterrence capabilities to the U.S. Strategic Command.