TOKYO (Reuters) - When US Marine Marvin Strombo found a Japanese flag on the body of an enemy soldier during World War II, he took it and promised to one day return it to the family of his fallen foe.
That vow was fulfilled on Tuesday (Aug 15), exactly 72 years after Japan's surrender, when Mr Strombo, 93, handed the flag to the brother and sisters of the late Sadao Yasue.
Mr Yasue, the eldest of six children from a farming town in central Japan, followed a common practice of carrying into battle a Japanese flag covered with messages and the signatures of family and friends.
Mr Strombo said he found the flag on Mr Yasue's body after a 1944 battle on the island of Saipan, the site of fierce fighting in the Pacific war.
"I finally realised that if I didn't take it, somebody else would have and it would be lost forever," Mr Strombo said in an interview provided by United States forces.
"So the only way I could do that, as I reached out to take the flag, was that I made a promise to him that some day I would try to return it," said Mr Strombo, who travelled to Japan from the US state of Montana.
The veteran said he had intended to return the flag soon after the war but did not know how. About five years ago, he was put in touch with a non-profit group that helps US veterans return artefacts to relatives.
The group tracked down Mr Yasue's family, who welcomed the flag with tears.
"It was a very emotional moment," Mr Strombo said, noting that he was especially moved by the response of one of the dead soldier's sisters.
"I saw her holding that flag... about broke my heart, you know," he added. "That's the reason I was glad I returned it too."