Craig museum holding Japanese good luck flag
Flag donated by local WWII soldier in dispute
When Mary Pat Dunn heard a story on National Public Radio about U.S. World War II veterans returning souvenirs taken from Pacific battlefields, she headed for the storage room at Craig’s Museum of Northwest Colorado.
“I knew I had seen it,” she said. “I knew it was someplace.”
Dunn, a registrar for the museum, was searching for a Yosegaki Hinomaru, more commonly known as a Japanese good luck flag, and she screamed with excitement when she finally found it.
Stunning calligraphy radiates outward from the red dot at the center of the flag. It is the writing of family and friends who wished to bestow good luck upon the young Japanese solider who would carry the flag with him into battle.
Many of these soldiers never made it back home, and their flags were taken as trophies of war.
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Now, because of the highly personal meaning behind these flags, efforts to return them to the original owner’s next of kin are gaining momentum.
Rex and Keiko Ziak, a Japanese-American couple from Naselle, Washington, have dedicated themselves to facilitating the return of these heirlooms through their nonprofit organization OBON 2015.
“It just seems like the decent thing to do,” Rex said, explaining that these flags are more than likely the only remaining traces of the soldiers they belonged to and returning them helps provide closure for the families left behind.
Keiko experienced this closure personally when she was reunited with her own grandfather’s flag in 2007.
In March, OBON 2015 held it’s first “flag returning ceremony” and five flags were entrusted to the Ziaks by World War II vets or their family members.
For Dan Davidson, Museum of Northwest Colorado director, deciding what to do with the good luck flag in his museum is not easy.
“I see the museum as a keeper of history,” he said.
A part of this flag’s history is when Maj. James M. Pughe, a Marine Corps pilot, brought it home to Craig after the war.
But the new historical context of the flag is only part of Davidson’s dilemma as museum policies come into play.
“We almost never return anything unless it’s to the donor or their direct descendants,” he explained, adding that he is certainly still willing to learn more about the flag and try to find a way to share it.
Mark Wick, Veterans of Foreign Wars quartermaster in Craig and Vietnam veteran, said he felt the decision to return a trophy of war is ultimately something that should be left solider who claimed it.
“It’s totally, I feel, up to the individual veteran to do what he feels is best in his heart,” he said.
According to Rex, returning the flags has provided just as much closure to American veterans as it has to Japanese families.
“One man told me, ‘Hey, it’s over. I have no quarrel with the dead,’” he said.
The Ziaks hope to expand OBON 2015 beyond the United States and continue to reunite families with lost mementos.
“You could call it an American-Japanese thing, but you could also just call it a human thing,” said Rex.
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