By Henry Sakaida  

“If this thing could talk, what a story it could tell!” I’m sure you’ve heard this adage in antique shops and collector shows. Not everything that you hold in your hands can be enticed to talk. However, with the right knowledge, contacts, and luck, some things can be made to tell their stories. 

On 18 February 1995, I was contacted by retired USMC Colonel William K. Snyder of Tustin, CA. I had written a magazine article about a WWII personal item I had successfully returned to the next-of-kin in Japan. 

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Corporal Kazama poses with his Nambu Type 11 6.5mm machine gun.

Colonel Snyder mailed me the flag and I examined it; it was soiled, but nicely preserved. About 200 individuals had signed the flag, wishing the recipient good luck. The artifact originated from Fukushima Prefecture; that was my starting point. I wrote to the governor of Fukushima Prefecture and included photographs of the flag. I requested his assistance in locating the next-of-kin. I honestly expected my request to be declined with apologies. 

On 29 May 1995, I received a letter from the Fukushima Prefectural Government office. My request landed on the governor’s desk, and was given the highest priority! The letter read, in part: “We were able to contact his wife, Mitsuko Kazama and she responded that she would be very happy to accept the aforementioned Japanese battle flag…Please give Colonel William K. Snyder our best regards and tell him that Mr. Kazama’s family was overjoyed at learning of your very kind offer.” 

The Kazama Family sent me photographs of the young soldier and his biography. I was able to make the flag “talkand shared the story with Colonel Snyder; he was thrilled! 

Masahiko Kazama was born in 1919 as the first son and the third child in a farming family. His father died of a stroke at age 43, and the young lad worked hard to support the family. They raised Angora rabbits to supplement their income. Three years after marriage, his wife became pregnant with their daughter. Masahiko was drafted into service when the war started. 

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The Kazama Family: Daughter and wife of Masahiko Kazama holding the flag.

Corporal Kazama left for service in the South Pacific on 19 January 1942. Prior to his departure, his family threw him a going away party, and well-wishers in the village signed their names to the silk flag which he would take into battle. His wife Mitsuko was pregnant at the time. Masahiko asked his mother to take good care of his wife; he promised both of them that he would return. 

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Little boys in 1942, these men were flabbergasted to see their own names on the flag!

Corporal Kazama belonged to the Army’s 29th Sendai Infantry Regiment. They landed on Guadalcanal on 4 October. In a ferocious assault on Bloody Ridge on the 25th, the machine gunner fell. Colonel Chesty Puller’s 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, saved the strategic Henderson Airfield from capture. 

The Army notified the Kazama Family that Masahiko’s death was verified on 5 February 1943. 

On 21 November 1995, the Kazama Family held a celebration to commemorate the return of Masahiko’s flag. Neighbors from all over the village came to view it and proclaimed it a miracle. Old men, then little kids back in 1942, stared in disbelief at their scribbles. Mrs. Mitsuko Kazama, Masahiko’s widow, saw her own signature on the flag as her daughter stood by (unborn at the time). Many tears were shed. 

Masahiko Kazama had kept his promise, and returned in spirit. Colonel William K. Snyder passed away in 2005 and is still greatly revered for his act of kindness. 

masahiko kazama

Fukushima newspaper article, dated 13 October 1995. The headline reads: “Killed at Guadalcanal, Japanese Soldier’s Rising Sun Flag, Returned to Bereaved Family after 53 Years.”

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Colonel William K. Snyder’s Letter to Henry Sakaida

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Names transcribed from the flag

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Letter from Colonel William K. Snyder to Mrs. Mitsuko Kazama (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

For Books by Henry Sakaida Check Out:

Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941–45

I-400: Japan’s Secret Aircraft Carrying Strike Submarine, Objective Panama Canal

Genda’s Blade: Japan’s Squadron of Aces: 343 Kokutai

Aces of the Rising Sun 1937–1945

B-29 Hunters of the JAAF

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