“We were enemies then. We are friends now” – Veteran Hopes to Return World War Two Flag to Japan

Marvin Strombo, 93, served in the US Marine Corps during World War II. While fighting in the Battle of Saipan in 1944, he recovered a saber and a flag from a Japanese officer who was killed in the fighting.

In the 1970s, Strombo’s home as robbed and the saber was stolen. Now he’s looking to return the flag to the family of the Japanese officer.

Joe Tachovsky took Strombo to lunch on Tuesday. He took the flag with him and delivered it to representatives of the Obon Society at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon, on Thursday.

Rex and Keiko Ziak are the founders of the Obon Society. They started the organization in 2009 to repatriate war keepsakes to Japanese families.

Strombo hopes the family will get the flag. He believes they will take some comfort from it.

Traditionally, friends and family members sign a Hinomaru Yosegaki flag with well-wishes. It is presented to a Japanese soldier before he goes to war.

Strombo visited University of Montana professor Rob Tuck’s class in November. Tuck was able to identify the flag’s owner as Yasue Sadao. Strombo is hoping that information plus the fact that the Japanese man had a saber, identifying him as an officer, will help locate his relatives.

Tachovsky is an author and restaurateur in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the son of Lt. Frank Tachovsky who commanded Strombo’s scout-sniper platoon in the 6th US Marine Regiment. That group worked behind enemy lines on Saipan.

Tachovsky is looking for an agent and publisher for his book, “40 Thieves: Saipan.” He researched and wrote the book after his father died.

Strombo is the oldest of the three remaining soldiers from that platoon. They were nicknamed “Thieves” because of their proficiency at covert operations and because they were able to obtain “a bottle of something” whenever they needed one.

Roscoe Mullins and Bob Smotts are the other two surviving members. Takovsky has become friends with all three men and has interviewed them all for his book. He is particularly fond of Strombo and made the stop on Tuesday as part of a cross-country tour to visit the graves and the families of the men that served under his father.

He is also hoping the flag can be returned to its rightful owners.

The Obon Society was featured in a CBS News report last Memorial Day, called “The Flags of Their Fathers.” The program focused on the repatriation of a Hinomaru held by Terry Stockdale, son of the late Glenn Stockdale. It generated such a large number of requests the researchers are rushing to keep up.

Their most recent successful repatriation happened in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Cynthia Kester, the granddaughter of a US Marine, presented a flag to the grandnephew of a Japanese soldier that was killed in 1945, Missoulian reported.

Eisuke Oniike, 58, traveled from Japan to receive the flag. “We were enemies then. We are friends now,” Kester, 60, said to Oniike.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE