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WWII soldier's good-luck flag returned from US to grandson in southwest Japan

OITA -- A Japanese flag thought to have been taken to battle by a soldier who died fighting in Okinawa Prefecture during the Pacific War's last days was returned to his grandson in the southwest Japan city of Oita on Jan. 16.

Upon receiving his grandfather's flag over 70 years after the war, Yoshinori Goto, 45, an Oita Prefectural Government employee, renewed his determination for peace, saying, "We have to pass down the horror of war."

According to Yoshinori, his grandfather Kesaji Goto left his village of Fujiwara -- now part of the town of Hiji -- in Oita Prefecture for the front. Kesaji is known to have belonged to the 12th Independent Infantry Battalion of the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade, but details including exactly when he went off to war are reportedly unknown. He is believed to have died in his 30s on July 1, 1945.

On the good-luck flag are messages to Kesaji including the word "Buunchokyu (long-lasting good luck in battle)." It is thought to have been taken to the U.S. by then Marine James Ellis Mercer, and was kept by his daughter Linda Hahn.

The Obon Society, an American nonprofit organization whose activities include returning Japanese flags, inquired with Oita Prefecture's association of war-bereaved families about the flag. Kesaji's family was then identified.

The flag's handover ceremony was held at Gokoku Shrine in Oita Prefecture on Jan. 16. With the flag in his hands, Goto said, "I'd like to say, 'Welcome back,' to my grandfather," and solemnly added that he felt the weight of history.

(Japanese original by Nao Ishii, Oita Bureau)