- Associated Press - Saturday, March 18, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Fifteen years ago, Veronica Hill found an old, worn piece of cloth folded up in the corner of her teacher’s closet at Goodwyn Middle School.

Unfolded, it revealed a familiar red dot in the center with Japanese writings in black ink all around it. An antique Japanese flag, it was estimated to be from World War II. As a history teacher, it was like finding gold and Hill’s quest to find the rightful owners of the flag began.

This month, that flag was finally reunited with the family whose ancestor held onto that flag while he fought and died during the war.

Hill’s journey “to right a wrong and to ease the pain of a family far away” has come to an end.

“The Japanese were horrible in their treatment of prisoners, and battle tactics. I do not sympathize with them at all. But, my thoughts turned to the families and the closure that is needed to put this era of time away,” said Hill, who is the daughter and the granddaughter of soldiers. “Always my heart would hurt and think of the family that sent them on their way. Did they know what became of their son?”

Now an American history teacher at Wetumpka High School, Hill has studied that during WWII and other past wars, it was a common practice for either side to abscond with trophies or souvenirs from the battlefield such as a weapon, jewelry or a military badge she said.

Often times, Japanese families sent their soldiers off to war with their nation’s flag neatly folded up in their pocket for good luck and a sign of their admiration Hill said. The flag she found, may have been a soldier’s token that was taken by an Allied solider.

“One of the most common and precious token they gave was a flag from their home or community to be signed by family and friends,” Hill said. “Many Japanese soldiers, with their dedication and honor knew they would not be returning. This flag was very precious to them.”

The flag she found 15 years ago had similar Japanese writings around the flag.

She began researching the meaning of the writings. When she came to Wetumpka to continue teaching history, she approached Dennis Sellers who worked at the school and once lived in Japan.

He helped her translate the writings to learn what village the flag had originated from. From the names listed, they became confident that they could locate the family of the soldier and begin communicating with relatives in Japan. She was contacted in February that the family had been found. She received a translated letter from them earlier this month by Katsuhiko Hata.

“Reading the letter about broke my heart and I realized that we did the right thing in returning it to them,” Hill said. “It was never mine in the first place, and how the American that secured this flag will always remain unknown.”

Hata, 71, said in the letter that his mother had learned of the death of his father, Shigezo Hata over a public service announcement from the Japanese government. He was only 5 months old at the time and had no memory of his father.

They were never given the body or dog tags. All they received was a rock from the area where he died. As Hata grew older he began researching for himself and learned his father, who was 35 years old at the time, had died in May 1944 in action on the Admiralty Islands in the South Pacific. The flag Hill gave them would have been his father’s most treasured possession he wrote.

He thanked Hill “from the bottom of my heart” for keeping the flag safe and returning it to his family.

“When I was informed that my father’s remnant, the Japanese flag existed, I was so surprised because it had passed more than 70 years since he died,” Hata wrote in part. “I was half in belief and half in doubt.

“When I looked at the picture of the flag closely, I recognized several names I knew. The picture gave me goose bumps and made my whole body shake and me realize his present strongly.”

The names of his uncle, aunt, cousins and co-workers were written on the flag, proving it was his father’s. He sent Hill a photo of himself and his sons holding the flag along with photos of his father and mother before the war.

For Hill this was more than a history lesson to share with her students. It was an example of teaching the peace that can come from war.

___

Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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