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Flag returned to relatives of Japanese soldier

December 28, 1996

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Like many Japanese airmen during World War II, Mitsuo Koyano wore a flag around his waist as a good-luck charm when he went into battle.

Written in Japanese on the silk half a century ago were the phrases: ``Fight bravely in battle. Do not die,″ and ``Sacrifice body and soul for the emperor.″

Koyano’s lucky charm failed him; he died Aug. 7, 1945 at Cebu Island, the Philippines. After his death, his flag was taken to western Pennsylvania by a U.S. artillery officer, where the slightly bloodstained banner remained for decades.

A couple cleaning their basement found the flag earlier this year and tracked down relatives of Koyano via the Internet and returned the flag to Japan this month.

Larry and Georgia Dushac mailed it to the wife of a U.S. Air Force airman, who gave it to Koyano’s son, Takeo Kurihara, who in turn gave the flag to his 80-year-old mother on Sunday. Kurihara sent the Dushacs a letter this week.

``When she finally understood, her face was like that of a girl in her 20s,″ he wrote. ``Her cheeks were pink with excitement. She then began talking to herself, (saying) `Mitsuo’s ... wish to return to Japan has finally come true.′ She had tears rolling down her cheeks.″

During the war, Japanese soldiers had the flags signed by relatives and friends and decorated with inspirational messages. The flags included the Rising Sun insignia that also was found on the sides of the Axis empire’s famous Zero fighters.

They are considered heirlooms in Japan. After World War II, relatives of missing Japanese soldiers and pilots often traveled to the battlefields of the Pacific to search for them.

Koyano’s widow, who walks with a cane and is hard of hearing, told her son to thank the Dushacs for returning the flag.

``She held the flag and stroked it over and over and said, `Thank you for not throwing this away,‴ wrote Kurihara, who was born 2 1/2 years before his father’s death.

The letter said Koyano’s 73-year-old sister was so overcome when she saw the flag, she could only nod, cry and repeat, ``It’s great!″

The leather-cornered flag apparently was brought to western Pennsylvania by Gabriel Pinciotti, an Army artillery soldier who served in New Guinea and the Philippines from 1942 to 1946. Pinciotti once lived in the Dushacs’ house 20 miles east of Pittsburgh.

``Knowing him, he probably found it along the road. He was always looking for something,″ Pinciotti’s daughter, Linda LaRosa, told the Beaver County Times.

When the Dushacs found the flag, they turned to computer enthusiast Lee Corfield, who posted messages on Internet news groups in Japan and got a response from Albert Christman of the Air Force.

He and his wife took the case from there and contacted Japanese government officials about Koyano. On Dec. 14, Christman reported that he had found Koyano’s mother and son.

By electronic mail, Christman said: ``The son is so excited and happy about this. He said he has always heard stories like this but never thought it would happen to him.″

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