WINNETKA, Ill. -- A World War II-era Japanese flag discovered in 2015 during construction at a high school in Illinois has been returned to the family of a soldier who died bringing it into battle.
Japanese language students at New Trier, with the help of faculty and the Obon Society -- a non-profit organization whose mission is to help return personal items taken during war -- located Teruo Shumizu, a 90-year-old farmer whose brother, Tokichi, died in 1944 at the age of 21.
"I run a small farm, and I am doing well," Teruo wrote to the students. "I pray for the further development of New Trier High School. I also pray for the good health and development/growth of New Trier High School students. On behalf of the Japan War-Bereaved Families Association, I want to give thanks."
Tokichi died in the Marshall Islands after being stationed as a border security agent in Manchuria, Teruo wrote. Of the six siblings in the family, only Teruo and an 87-year-old sister are still alive.
Flags, like the one belonging to Tokichi , were given by families to soldiers for protection, and it was common for those serving in the U.S. military to bring such souvenirs stateside with them.
When Teruo was located, dozens of present and former Japanese language students at New Trier sent letters to him. In a response, Teruo wrote that he "never received letters that moved me so much"
Bennett J. Blake, a senior at New Trier, noted the importance of the endeavor, both in and out of the classroom.
"Writing and receiving letters from Mr. Shimizu was a really valuable experience for me and everyone else in the Japanese program," he said. "Being able to write letters in Japanese and then translate the letter we received was an engaging real-world application of our Japanese knowledge.
"We in the Japanese program are happy to have returned the flag to its rightful owner."