U.S. World War Two veteran Marvin Strombo (C) meets with Tatsuya Yasue (L), brother of Sadao Yasue, to hand over a Japanese flag Strombo found in a battlefield in 1944, in Higashi-Shirakawa Village, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo August 15, 2017. Picture taken August 15, 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo via REUTERS(reuters_tickers)
TOKYO (Reuters) - When U.S. Marine Marvin Strombo found a Japanese flag on the body of an enemy soldier during World War Two, he took and promised to one day return it to the family of his fallen foe.
That vow was fulfilled on Tuesday, exactly 72 years after Japan's surrender, when Strombo, 93, handed the flag to the brother and sisters of Sadao Yasue.
Yasue, the eldest of six children from a farming town in central Japan, followed a common practice of carrying into battle a Japanese flag covered with messages and the signatures of family and friends.
Strombo said he found the flag on Yasue's body after a 1944 battle on the island of Saipan, the site of fierce fighting in the Pacific war.
"I finally realised that if I didn't take it, somebody else would have and it would be lost forever," Strombo said in an interview provided by U.S. forces.
"So the only way I could do that, as I reached out to take the flag, I made a promise to him that some day I would try to return it," said Strombo, who traveled to Japan from the U.S. state of Montana.
Strombo said he had intended to return the flag soon after the war but did not know how. About five years ago he was put in touch with a non-profit group that helps U.S. veterans return artifacts to relatives.
The group tracked down Yasue's family, who welcomed the flag with tears.
"It was a very emotional moment," Strombo said, noting that he was especially moved by the response of one of Yasue's sisters.
"I saw her holding that flag, about broke my heart, you know," he added. "That's the reason I was glad I returned it too."
(Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Darren Schuettler)