Among the souvenirs soldiers brought home from World War II were Japanese prayer flags. Many of them were personal, inscribed with prayers or wishes of the soldiers they belonged to.
Two of these flags that were once part of the historical collection at Lamouree-Hackett American Legion Post 72 in Saugerties have been returned to relatives of the soldiers who had carried them in battle.
A third flag was given to the post to return by a local veteran’s family in the hope that it could also be returned to the family of its original owner. On Thursday, Nov. 15, Dr. Kiyoshi Yamauchi of Niimi, Okayama, Japan came to Saugerties to receive the flag and take it back to Japan, where he will work with the government to try to locate the family of the soldier who carried it and return it to them.
“We think this may have been a battle flag from an airborne unit around Guadalcanal and Bougainville,” said Bill Payne of the Legion. The flag was in a kit that included other information, and it may have come from a PBY, an amphibious airplane, Payne said.
The writing in the flag, in an old cursive style, was difficult to decipher, Yamauchi said. However, a surprise included the name Hideki Tojo, who was prime minister during World War II, written on the flag. “I would like to know whether this was the Prime Minister’s own handwriting,” Yamauchi said. He plans to compare the writing on the flag to samples of Tojo’s handwriting back in Japan.
From the inscriptions, which mention 1944, Payne estimated that the flag was post-Guadalcanal, and was from some later battle. The flag may have figured in the battle of Saipan, which took place in 1944.
The veterans initially became interested in finding the families of the soldiers who had carried the flags through the efforts of Peigi Mulligan, who saw the flags several years ago in an American History display at the Kiersted House. Mulligan was playing bagpipes for the History Day festivities, and she knew someone who might be able to translate the notes written on the flags.
“I mentioned to Bill Payne that I knew that people in Vietnam had returned dog tags to American GI families, and I thought that was a pretty impressive thing to do,” Mulligan said. “I knew people were starting to do it with prayer flags as well.”
Payne and Alan Greczynski, past commanders of the post, worked with Japan Society of New Paltz and New Paltz Professor Emeritus Al Marks to translate the flags. The post members then voted unanimously to try to locate the relatives of these soldiers and return the flags.
Marks was involved in a sister-city project with a town in Japan, and contacted Dr. Yamauchi. “They wanted to return these flags to the relatives in Japan,” Yamauchi said. “Al Marks asked me to help him (locate relatives). I put the pictures on my blog, and visited the town offices. It was hard to find the relatives after so many years.”
The Ministry of Welfare in Japan was able to locate the relatives of the soldiers who had carried the flags, and they were returned, Yamauchi said.
Yamauchi visited one of the relatives, and “he was very happy about having the flag.”