Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Souvenir

From earliest times, it seems that people have sought some reminder or piece of a place or event to save for themselves or posterity. One somewhat macabre reminder of the gore of World War II resides in my basement. It is a small Japanese flag designed to be rolled up and worn around the waist of a soldier. I assume that each soldier, sailor and airman had one. It was to serve as a reminder of what the soldier was fighting for—his emperor, his homeland and his friends and family. In a pinch, it could be used as an actual flag to designate a camp or something, I suppose, but that’s only my own thinking.

Before the soldiers went off to war, many of them took their flag around to their family and village members and asked them to sign it. Many people added prayers, or wishes for a safe return, or calls to great valor. The flag that Dad brought home from the war has such writing. I wish there was some way to get the flag back to the soldier’s nearest living relative, if there are any.

This flag was found on a dead Japanese soldier, lying in a hand-dug “cave” in the Philippine Islands. Many of their troops were ensconced in such hard-to-see shelters, which is part of what made some of the fighting there so difficult. Nearly always, during “wipe-up” of each area, one or more wounded Japanese soldiers would be found alive but wounded, lying in their cave. If they could not rise and crawl out under their own power, they were shot in their bed. That sounds cruel, but many would booby-trap themselves, so that if they were moved, a grenade would kill whoever was trying to save them. That sort of fanaticism can be believed, after seeing so many suicide bombers among present-day muslims. I think they were later pulled out with a rope for burial. I assume that if an explosion ensued, they were considered buried already. Apparently, the soldier wearing this flag wasn’t booby-trapped.

The flag has what appear to be rust stains on it, but they aren’t rust stains. The iron in blood turns the stains rusty-colored after a certain amount of time. All the tiny holes in the flag seem to indicate that he died from wounds inflicted either by shrapnel, or a shotgun blast. (Shotguns WERE used by a few troops in certain situations. I imagine they would be quite handy in jungle warfare.)

Dad never harbored ill-will toward the Japanese as some did. He realized that while a few were animals, most were probably just average Joes doing what they considered their duty. I remember his telling about seeing stacks of dead Japanese soldiers on a beach awaiting burial. As he looked at the horrible waste of life, he said that he remembered thinking that each one was some mother’s son.

I think that we should return to the days when those who declared war, or ordered a charge, had to lead it. Unfortunately, there were still many wars even then, for never in history has there been a shortage of human greed or inflated egos. © 2014


Lady Locust said...

Wow! What a piece of history. Sometimes libraries or colleges have someone who can translate - it may have a name and/or location, if you really wanted to find out. (Maybe even an exchange student in the area.)
I agree too that those who declare war should take part in fighting it.
Great post.

Chickenmom said...

Maybe if you can take it to a Japanese restaurant they can translate the writing for you, Gorges.
My Dad had a lot of German stuff from the war, too.

Gorges Smythe said...

I know a guy who's taking Japanese right now, LL. He may have an instructor who'd be interested in helping. I just now remembered that.

They won't LET you send home sounenirs anymore, Cm. I think it's because of all the guns that were shipped here back then, but they say it's just being "sensitive" to the losers.

Ian H said...

I am sure a survivor would really like to get this back, or a copy of it. Try the universities for a translator.

Gorges Smythe said...

I really SHOULD try to find a home for it before I croak, Ian.