In November 2012, Kiyoshi Yamouchi, a Japanese teacher of English and director of the Nimi International Exchange Association, came to Saugerties to retrieve two Japanese battle flags that had been donated to the Lamouree-Hackett American Legion Post 72 in Saugerties. The post members decided that the flags should be returned to the families of the soldiers who had carried them.
Since then, a visit to Saugerties is one of the events Yamouchi includes in his annual student trips to this country. The Japanese come to see the photo replicas of the flags the post had made before returning the originals, and to hear the story of how they were returned.
This year, the group visited the American Legion post on Thursday, September 10. The students, who attend Nimi College in Nimi, Okayama, Japan, stay with families in New Paltz, a sister city of Nimi.
Yamouchi brought 19 students to Ulster County. They visited the State University of New York campus in Stone Ridge, Mohonk Mountain House and the Walkway Over the Hudson. And on their day in Saugerties they visited the post’s collection of memorabilia – a small military museum – on the second floor of the post building, which includes the reproductions of the two flags.
The Japanese battle flags are personal, with good wishes and signatures of friends and family covering them, similar to high school and college yearbooks bearing the signatures and best wishes of colleagues.
The saga of the flags began with Peigi Mulligan, who suggested that the flags on display at the post would have sentimental value for the families of the soldiers who had carried them, in much the same way that American dog tags, returned by the Japanese, had value for the American families who received them. Post member William Payne and Alan Greczynski worked with SUNY New Paltz professor emeritus Al Marks to translate the flags. Marks was involved with a sister cities project, and he, in turn contacted Yamouchi for help finding the relatives of the soldiers who had carried the flags.
Since that first visit, Yamouchi has been including the Saugerties American Legion post in his annual trips.
The visit on Thursday included a pizza lunch at the post, a visit to the post museum, with the reproductions of the battle flags as a highlight, and a visit to the Saugerties Lighthouse.
In a welcoming speech, translated by Yamouchi, past commander Payne explained that the American Legion was an organization of veterans who served during wartime. The Saugerties post was founded in 1919, he said.
Two Japanese battle flags were donated to the post’s museum by post members. “With the help of Peigi Mulligan and her friends and the late sensei, Al Marks, a professor at New Paltz, and the Japanese Society there, we were able to contact Professor Yamouchi and return the flags to the families of the fallen soldiers in Japan,” Payne said.
This year’s visit is special, because the United States and Japan last month marked the 70th anniversary of the cessation of the war, Payne said.
More than a dozen veterans of World War II were at the post to meet the students and share their stories of the war. Mulligan presented Yamouchi with a wind chime, a gift from the post.
The trip is paid for by the students’ families, Yamouchi said, and any student interested in joining the trip is welcome.
“I love American movies and American music, so I was interested in coming to the United States,” said Siena Imano, a nursing student. “I wanted the home stay,” said Minami Takeda, also a nursing student. “I like the English language, and I wanted to speak with Americans.”