A high school language teacher made it possible to have several of his brightest students help the son of a WWII veteran return a Japanese relic to the family of a Japanese soldier who fought at Iwo Jima.
In 1945, U.S. Army Sgt. James W. Keogh earned a Bronze Star for his service at Iwo Jima. He brought home some souvenirs of battle, including including two flags inscribed with “good luck” messages to Japanese soldiers from their families.
The flag is called a hinomaru yosegaki. It is a large flag filled with writing. After 70 years, Keogh’s Alaskan son decided to attempt repatriating the flags to the families the soldiers in Japan.
Warren Keogh took the flags to a professor at at the University of Alaska Anchorage. One of the flags was easily deciphered; the other was not. The name of the soldier on the first flag was Matsukuma Torao, and due to his unusual name it was determined that he came from Japan’s most southwestern island, Kyushu. The other flag featured a more common name, and writing that was less easily deciphered.
Keogh wanted to involve Japanese language students in the flag repatriation, but at the time there was no interest at UAA. Early this year he spoke to Shunji Ninoyu, a dedicated Japanese language instructor at Colony High School in Anchorage. He has a history of engaging his students in interactive projects with people in Japan and Japanese culture.
Ninoyu chose two of his fourth level students, who wrote letters to newspapers in the area. They had success when Asami Minohara, editor of the foreign affairs department at The Nishinuppon Shimbun (The West Japan Daily) ran the story. Torao’s son came forward, and has met with Keogh.