A U.S. Marine who served in the Pacific during World War II is traveling to a remote Japanese village to return a flag he took from the body of a dead enemy soldier 73 years ago.
The Oregon-based Obon Society was able to identify the flag's owner as Yasue Sadao and find his village through signatures left on the flag by relatives and neighbors.
Marvin Strombo was part of an elite Marine scout-sniper unit stationed on the island of Saipan during the war. He was separated from his squad behind enemy lines when he came across the body of the dead Japanese soldier.
Strombo is now 93 and said returning the flag to Yasue's surviving siblings will help him heal.
"Taking the flag kind of bothered me because it's so special like it's part of him, tucked in his coat," he explained. "I barely saw it and I just about didn't take it, but I thought at least if I take it, I could get it back and if someone else did maybe they would never see it again."
Strombo said he wrote letters but could not find a way to return the flag, so it sat in a display case until he was able to work with the Obon Society to identify the flag's origin.
On Thursday, Strombo boarded a flight from Portland to Japan. He was greeted by a crowd of reporters in Tokyo Friday and will travel to the village next week.
The flags were a good-luck charm for Japanese soldiers, and they have deep significance because most families never learned how their loved ones died and never received remains.
There are signatures from 180 people on the flag, and seven of the villagers are still alive, including the younger brother and two sisters of the soldier Strombo came across all those years ago.
He has a meeting arranged with the family Tuesday, and the entire community is preparing to welcome him.
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