A Soldier's Flag
Home from Attu after 60 Years
Introduction by Russ Marvin
August of 2000, having recently returned from my visit to Attu, I spotted
an item for sale on eBay which I thought had great historical interest - a
signed Japanese flag from the Battle of Attu. I successfully bid for the
flag. This flag had been brought back from Attu by Edwin Trebian of La
Mesa, California, who was stationed on Attu right after the Battle of Attu
ended. In a telephone conversation with Ed, he told me that he had always
wanted to have the writing on the flag translated, and see if the flag
could be returned to the family of the Japanese soldier. The years went
by, and he just never got around to it. He finally decided to sell the
flag to raise money for the local Shriners.
Feb. 2001, I contacted the Museum of the Aleutians in Dutch Harbor to see
if they would be interested in adding the flag to their collection. They
agreed. The donation of this flag to the Museum set in motion an amazing
series of events. Rather than attempt to tell the story of this flag
myself, I am presenting an excellent article from the Dutch Harbor
Fisherman. To describe events in Japan, I am including an email from Mr.
Satomi Yamamoto, who was instrumental in the efforts to locate the widow,
and arrange for the return of the flag.
efforts of many people were involved in this project, and I would like to
express my thanks to Edwin Trebian, Anne Rowland, former Curator of the
Museum of the Aleutians, Dr. Rick Knecht, Director of the Museum, Mya
Renken, Director of the Unalaska Convention and Visitors Bureau, Satomi
Yamamoto of Marketing Garden, Ltd., Captain Shirakawa of the Nippon Maru,
and the many other dedicated employees of the Mitsui OSK Passenger Line,
The following article by Sarah Burridge is
from the Dutch Harbor Fisherman, Feb. 21, 2002, and is reproduced with
permission of the Editor, Mr. Jeff Richardson.
Rising Sun, flag of honor and luck, to
return home to family of slain soldier
Carried by a Japanese soldier at the Battle
of Attu, a simple silk flag, white with a brilliant red disk in the
center, bore witness to one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific
theater during World War II. A symbol of luck and honor, the flag
fulfilled its promise as the Japanese held on to the forbidding island of
Attu far longer than anyone anticipated. In the end, those still standing
chose to commit suicide rather than die with dishonor.
The man who carried the Japanese flag,
Tadashi Kikuchi (see note 1), died sometime during the nearly three weeks
the battle raged. His flag, taken by a souvenir right after the battle was
over , went home with an American soldier.
Sixty years later, thanks to a rather amazing series of twists of fate,
the flag will be returning to his widow and daughter in Akita, Japan this
The flag had been in possession of Edwin
Trebian of La Mesa, Calif. since the war. Trebian had been a Navy supply
clerk who landed on Attu just after the battle concluded.
"There was a lot of that stuff around,"
Trebian said in a telephone interview Monday. "They all wore them around
their waist. U.S. soldiers would just strip it right off 'em. Didn't
really mean nothing to them at the time - just a souvenir, you know ?"
Trebian's memories of Attu are still vivid.
"It was so dang cold up there," he said. "At first we had tents, and then
they built us these 12 to 13 man Quonset huts. That was better. But the
soldiers just had tents. They had a little stove to warm the tent - it
would be all muddy around the stove inside their tents. It was pretty
rough up there for some of them guys. Them soldiers went through the
dickens up there."
Trebian also remembered the dead.
"There were so many of them. The Army just
cut a path with a bulldozer and then shoved 'em in," he said. "There were
so many. What else could they do ? It's something I wouldn't care to go
And the flag haunted him.
"For so many years I always meant to contact
the Japanese embassy and find out about it. But you know how the years go
by, and you just never do some things," Trebian, now 80, said. He
eventually sold the flag to help raise money for the local Shriners.
The man who bought the flag was Russell
Marvin. He felt the flag would be better served on display in a museum
rather than languishing in private hands, and donated the flag to the
Museum of the Aleutians.
Museum staffers wondered about the writing on
the flag, hoping it might disclose its history. But the writing was in a
form of Japanese no longer used, and translation was difficult.
"A Japanese sailor happened along and came
into the museum in the summer of 2001," said Museum of the Aleutians
Curator Anne Rowland. "He translated the 1940's Japanese, and we had a
name and address."
Rick Knecht, the Museum Director, took the
information to the World War II Commemorative Commission to see if they
might undertake finding the family. The word about the flag was beginning
Mya Renken, Director of the Unalaska/Dutch
Harbor Convention and Visitors Bureau, was now aware of the flag. She was
contacted by a woman in Japan who was involved in the marketing of a
Japanese cruise ship, the Nippon Maru, which is scheduled to be in port
here in July, and Renken mentioned the flag. The woman's sister and her
husband just happened to live in Akita Japan, the very town noted on the
flag as where the dead soldier was from.
The couple in Akita went to their City Hall
to check records. They could not find the name. Then Renken forwarded
images of the flag via email. The name had been mistranslated. Another
trip to City Hall in Akita turned up not only Tadashi Kikuchi's widow, but
a daughter and several of the people who actually signed the flag as well.
In one final bit of fate, the cruise ship
Nippon Maru is scheduled to sail into Akita, Japan one month after calling
at port here. The captain of the ship said he would be honored to accept
the flag on behalf of the 78 year old widow, and would personally present
it to her in Japan.
"The way this has come together, it's just meant to be," said Renken.
"Mrs. Kikuchi and her daughter are really excited about it. They are
showing pictures of the flag to everyone."
The flag, known as a bunn-tchokyu in
Japanese, was a standard part of every Japanese soldier's kit. Of the
2,700 Japanese men entrenched in the caves and tunnels above Massacre Bay
throughout the Battle of Attu, only 28 survived. At least one of those
said the only reason he was alive was the failure of the grenade he held
to his chest that day to explode.
There were more than 3,800 American
casualties during the invasion of Attu. The American dead numbered 549.,
while the extreme cold took down 1,200 more. On the Japanese side,
American burial parties counted 2,351. Hundreds more were presumed already
buried. Only the battle for Iwo Jima had a higher percentage of
The battle for Attu was supposed to take just
a couple of days. American soldiers landed at the beachead with just one
K-ration meal for a single day. They had been trained for war in North
Africa, a half a world away and in a climate as opposite the Aleutians as
possible. As their artillery and jeeps sank into the muskeg, it quickly
became a battle fought one man at a time. American forces, further
hampered by the lack of cover and persistent fog, slowly crawled up
Massacre Valley toward the Japanese, entrenched at the top.
Life at the top of the valley equally
miserable. On May 22, the Japanese commander learned that there was no
hope of a rescue or reinforcements from Tokyo. The next morning, he
launched a desperate charge of every man left standing straight down the
mountainside. The plan was to reach U.S. artillery near the bottom and
turn it against the American forces. If successful, it might buy them time
for a retreat or reinforcements.
They came close to succeeding. The Japanese
force, in what is now known as the Bonzai Charge of Attu, came screaming
down the mountain, killing everything in there way. They were finally
turned back by a contingent of Army engineers, the last men to stand
between the Japanese and the artillery.
In a stunning act of defiance and national
honor, those Japanese left committed suicide rather than be taken
prisoner. The detention camp that had been built at Dutch Harbor in
anticipation of an American victory stood empty.
Hundreds of American families mourned their
dead. Thousands of Japanese families mourned their losses. Among them was
the widow and child of Tadashi Kikuchi.
Sixty years later, one small part of history,
one small part of a life lost in a desperate battle over land almost
forsaken by the government that forced that battle will return home. The
Rising Sun will rise once again.
note 1: The name of the Japanese soldier was
at first mistranslated as Masatada Kikuchi. I have take the liberty of
correcting the name as it originally appeared in this article.
The following e-mail message was sent by
Mr. Satomi Yamamoto of Marketing Garden, Ltd., to Mya Renken, Director,
Unalaska Convention and Visitors Bureau on August 6, 2002
just want to inform you that the ceremony was very successful. After the
Captain returned the flag to Mrs. Kikuchi, the press conference started.
We had six journalists from major newspapers, two journalists from major
news agencies, four film crews from local TV stations, and one broadcaster
from a local FM station.
Mrs. Kikuchi was wonderful., and well
prepared to answer all the journalists questions. Mrs. Kikuchi said,
"First of all, thank you for coming to the ceremony today, and thank you
to everyone who arranged this ceremony. When I got a call from
Yamamoto-san who I didn't know at all on Feb. 5, and was informed of the
flag, I thought it was a lie. Then I received a photo of the flag, and
recognized that it was not a lie. I felt I was dreaming. I have been
thinking of the flag whether I have been sleeping or waking until today."
When Mr. Kikuchi left his home for the war,
his daughter was just 42 days old. Mrs. Kikuchi told me, wiping tears from
her eyes, My husband held my daughter tightly, and left the house for the
war." Mrs. Kikuchi was informed that her husband had died in the
Philippines, and was sent a bone fragment about the size of a chess piece.
Other than that, she had heard nothing about him. Mrs. Kikuchi said, "I
feel that my husband has finally come back to me."
After the press conference, Mitsui hosted a
very nice lunch at a private room on the Nippon Maru, followed by a tour
of the ship. It took about three hours for the entire ceremony which
warmed everyone's heart.
Mya-san, thank you very much for giving me
this opportunity. Even when I worked for Disney, I could never make
someone's dream come true, but I have helped Mrs. Kikuchi's dream to come
true. I would like to thank you, and anyone else related to this matter.
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Photo captions and credits:
1) The Flag - photo by Russ Marvin
2) Presentation Ceremony - Dutch Harbor, June 12, 2002 - photo courtesy of
3) Presentation Ceremony - Dutch Harbor - photo courtesy of Anne Rowland.
Left to right: Yoshi of Westward Seafoods, Captain Shirakawa of the Nippon
Maru, Katherine Grimnes, Edwin Trebian, Chief Pursor Ichiro from the
Nippon Maru, and Unalaska Mayor Pro-Tem Paul Larson.
4) Presentation Ceremony in Akita, Japan - photo courtesy of Mutsui OSK
Passenger Line, Ltd. Left to right: Mrs. Kikuchi's daughter, Suzuki Megumi, Mrs.Kikuchi, Capt.
Shirakawa of the Nippon Maru