Marvin Strombo fought as a Marine in World War II. His most profound experience during the war occurred when he encountered a deceased Japanese soldier during the Battle of Saipain:
As a young corporal, Strombo looked up from his position on the battlefield, he noticed he became separated from his squad behind enemy lines. As he started heading in the direction of the squad’s rally point, he came across a Japanese soldier that lay motionless on the ground.
“I remember walking up to him,” said Strombo. “He was laying on his back, slightly more turned to one side. There were no visible wounds and it made it look almost as if he was just asleep. I could see the corner of the flag folded up against his heart. As I reached for it, my body didn’t let me grab it at first. I knew it meant a lot to him but I knew if I left it there someone else might come by and take it. The flag could be lost forever. I made myself promise him, that one day, I would give back the flag after the war was over.” Via marines.mil
Strombo kept the flag for decades after the war. But then he learned about the Obon Society of Astoria, Oregon. This non-profit organization is committed to returning heirlooms like the one Strombo found to families to whom the items hold great emotional and even spiritual significance. An image from their site depicts a representative scenario:
Image courtesy of Obon Society (obonsociety.org)
The Obon Society facilitated a face-to-face meeting between the families of Strombo and Sadao Yasue, the fallen Japanese soldier. The reaction of the soldier’s family members demonstrates the immense significance they attached to receiving the flag:
Sadao’s younger brother, Tatsuya Yasue, said his brother was a young man with a future to live. When Sadao was called upon to go to war, his family gave him this flag as a symbol of good fortune to bring him back to them. Getting this flag back means more to them than just receiving an heirloom. It’s like bringing Sadao’s spirit back home. Via marines.mil
We commend the actions taken by the Obon Society and by Strombo in keeping the promise he made on that day, Semper Fi, Marine.
Trophy-taking has been common among troops for many centuries, and we do not presume to make specific moral judgments about the practice. Our intent is to celebrate Strombo’s capacity, as a warrior, to look past the immediate realities of war and respect the fellow human who had fallen on that battlefield, and to show compassion towards his family.
We cannot think of a better way to replace the enmities with enduring friendships, such as that we now enjoy with the people and government of Japan.
If you are a veteran or a veteran’s family member and have an item that you may want to return, you can contact Obon Society through their site’s form here.