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Searching for Closure

At the age of 19, a farmer from rural Texas, Dan McCall (my Papa), and his cousin, Jimmy, were drafted into World War II. The cousins, who were best friends, assigned to different divisions. Papa returned after the War, but Jimmy was MIA. Jimmy’s body was never recovered, and his family always felt the sharp pain of loss.

Papa was a heavy equipment operator during the War. He dug mass graves and buried deceased Japanese soldiers. One day, while pushing bodies into a ditch, he discovered a Japanese flag, with writing all over it.

During World War II, Japanese soldiers carried good-luck flags, hinomaru yosegaki, a national flag signed by loved ones. The soldier’s name, home village, and sentiments of victory cover the flags. The hinomaru yosegakiwas part identification, part good luck charm.

Over 1 million Japanese soldiers remain on Japan’s MIA list from WWII, compared to 72,000 U.S. soldiers missing in action from the War. With each hinomaru yosegakireturned, the soldier’s name is removed from the MIA list, and the family is presented with one of the last possessions owned by their beloved soldier. The soldier’s spirit is finally laid to rest, bringing peace and closure to the family.

Shortly before he turned 96, Papa and I sorted through his box of Army memorabilia. We found letters, discharge records, photographs, and a Japanese flag. We discussed the significance of flag, and he gave his blessing to find the Japanese soldier’s family. Papa died three days after his 96thbirthday. I was given his Japanese flag.

For over a year, I enlisted the help of friends to solve the mystery of this flag. U.S. Marines Veteran Bob Tuke was tireless in his commitment to the search- sending emails, making phone calls and personal visits on my behalf. No one had any answers.

As hope was diminishing, I met Yosuke Nosaka, a Murfreesboro businessman. Mr. Nosaka was hosting 14 visitors from Yokohama and Kawasaki. They agreed to look at the hinomaru yosegaki. In just a few minutes, the soldier’s name, employer, and city were discovered. Online research revealed the company is still in business! With great enthusiasm, they offered to join the effort.

This moment was significant in many ways. We were strangers, who did not speak the same language. We were not related professionally, or share mutual friends, and we represented many generations. But this tattered, silk flag that represents a tragic piece of our shared history, united us. Just like the War, something devastating led to the promise of cooperation.

As I hold the flag, admire the writing, bullet holes, and blood, I feel it’s importance. It is worthy of display, story-telling, and remembrance for those lost. The soldier’s sacrifice is worthy of effort to find his family.

Time is running out. As the Greatest Generation passes away, these Japanese flags remain in boxes, in attics, in places long forgotten. Let’s unpack the flags and our Veterans’ stories. And let’s work together to send flags, and closure, home.

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