CLEARFIELD — Blood-spattered and battered by what appears to be several bullet holes, a ceremonial flag that belonged to a Japanese solider has been treasured by Roger Lestrange, of Clearfield, for more than 35 years.
However, for the last several months, Lestrange has been working with a Salt Lake City genealogist to return the flag to the dead soldier’s relatives.
“To have something with his (the Japanese soldier’s) blood on it … to them it would be important,” Lestrange said.
Lestrange, 53, received the flag from his father, John Lestrange, who was a captain with the 1st Marine Division, during World War II. John Lestrange took the flag after killing the Japanese solider during a battle in Guam.
The white silk flag, embossed with a large red disc in the center to symbolize the sun, is signed by several of the soldier’s relatives and is similar to those carried for good luck by other Japanese military personnel during World War II.
Lestrange was 15 when his father, who never talked about his service in the Marines, unexpectedly gave him the flag.
“He came over to me and said, ‘Here, take it. I want you to have it. I don’t want anything to do with it,’ ” Lestrange recalled.
He believes his father refused to talk about the military because he suffered from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, a severe anxiety disorder that can result from a person experiencing a traumatic event, such as war.
“My mom would say he would talk in his sleep about World War II,” Lestrange said of his father, who died in 2000. “He was also very startled by loud noises.”
Lestrange, who retired from the Air Force in 1994 after serving 16 years as a bomb loader, comes from a military family.
His older brother was wounded while serving in the Marines during the Vietnam War, and an uncle, a Navy pilot in World War II, was killed when his F4F Wildcat was shot down off the coast of Japan.
Lestrange has always been a World War II buff and frequently used a metal detector to scour battlefields in Germany for helmets and other relics while stationed there with the Air Force.
He still prizes the Japanese flag from his dad, but four months ago was in need of quick cash, and decided to try to sell it through the online auction site eBay and KSL.com.
He eventually removed the flag from the sites, however, because the highest offer was only $20.
Then Hiromi Bendixen, a family history consultant from Salt Lake City, saw Lestrange’s ad on KSl.com and contacted him.
Bendixen, who is Japanese, asked Lestrange if she could, free of charge, research the signatures on the flag and possibly locate the dead solider’s relatives.
Bendixen said that, from the flag, she was able to glean the soldier’s name, Fukuji Iida, a Japanese government official’s name, Isamu Narishima, and the names of others. She then completed a Google search and was able to connect Narishima to the city of Kashiwa, east of Tokyo.
From there Bendixen found a war veterans association that led her to Iida’s daughter and sister.
Bendixen is pleased she has been able to contact Iida’s family, and offered to help Lestrange write a letter to them.
“I hoped I could do something to return the flag to the family,” she said. “I just wanted the flag to go back to Japan.”
Lestrange is looking forward to sending the flag to Iida’s family. He said:
“If it went to the … daughter of this guy, it would bring me happiness.”