- Associated Press - Thursday, October 28, 2010

TOKYO | For decades, the faded photograph of a baby Japanese girl and a child’s colorful drawing hung on a wall in the home of Franklin Hobbs III in America.

As a 21-year-old U.S. soldier fighting on Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, Mr. Hobbs found them in the pocket of a fallen Japanese soldier and took them as a souvenir.

Until recently, he tried not to think too much about the battle or the photo and drawing. Then, a few years ago, at his wife’s suggestion, he decided to try to give them back.

For the girl in the photo and her sister, they meant the world.

Mr. Hobbs, now 86, returned to Japan this week for the first time since the war and met with one of the daughters whose life he changed by returning the items. Chie Takekawa had drawn the picture of an air-raid drill that Mr. Hobbs found on her father — a man she barely knew and whose remains have never been found.

 in Japan that Chie Takekawa drew as a child has been returned to her by the U.S. soldier who found the drawing in 1945. (Associated Press)
in Japan that Chie Takekawa drew as a child has been returned ... more >

“As a child, I had always wondered when my father would come home from the war,” Ms. Takekawa, 74, said Thursday with a beaming Mr. Hobbs by her side. “I feel like he has actually come back after all these years. I am very grateful.”

The story of the mementos very nearly ended on Mr. Hobbs’ wall.

Mr. Hobbs — himself an orphan from an early age — said he first found them in an envelope on a Japanese soldier lying dead outside a large cave. A corporal in the Army Signal Corps, Mr. Hobbs had just survived an intense battle on the beach, dug in deep with a buddy and eating raw bacon for three days.

When the fighting calmed enough, he was assigned to drive a truck to help set up lines of communication for the U.S. troops. He was steering up a hill when he came upon several other Americans searching the bodies of three dead Japanese.

One of them was 36-year-old Matsuji Takekawa.

“I saw the letter sticking out, and I said, ‘I don’t want any swords or anything, but I think I’ll take this letter.’ I just picked it up, I suppose out of curiosity. But I felt a little bad about it at the time.”

Mr. Hobbs took it with him when Japan’s surrender that August meant he could leave the island after eight months.

He considered himself lucky.

The battle, which began on Feb. 19, 1945, and lasted more than a month, claimed 6,821 American and 21,570 Japanese lives.

Closure for the Japanese families is rare. About 12,000 Japanese are still classified as missing in action and presumed killed on the island, along with 218 Americans.

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