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Summerfield man returns WWII flag to Japan

Galen Goodale served on hospital ship during war

A World War II relic has finally found its way home, after spending more than 60 years in a box in Galen Goodale's closet.

The 85-year-old Summerfield resident has had a large Japanese flag since 1945. Galen recently returned the flag to Japan, reuniting it with its rightful owners.

The thin silk flag, yellowed with age, was covered with Japanese writing.

"When Japanese soldiers went overseas, their family would sign a flag, and they would carry it with them," Galen said.

"This was the flag that one soldier carried with him."

A Naval surgical technician during WWII, Galen assisted doctors during surgery aboard the USS Pinkney hospital ship in the Pacific.

When a Marine wounded in the battle of Iwo Jima came into Galen's operating room, he gave him the flag.

"I haven't the slightest idea where he got it from," Galen said. "Probably off of a dead Japanese soldier, I suppose."

Returning home to Portland after the war, Galen put the war behind him. He kept the flag in an old box with the rest of his souvenirs from the war and forgot about it.

"It was something I would go and look at every 20 years," he said. "I looked at it a couple of times over the years."

Galen's daughter Diana Marsden said she never knew about the flag growing up, and only learned about its recent trip overseas when her father mentioned it in passing.

"We never talked about it," she said.

Few veterans do, Galen said.

"Most people from World War II don't talk about it, ever. Period," he said. "It's difficult to talk about now, and most people in the service just don't talk about it because nobody would believe what we would say anyway."

Galen has several souvenirs from his time overseas, including a Japanese rifle and pieces of a kamikaze plane that crashed into the side of the ship, killing 18 crewmen.

As time went on, the flag slowly began to deteriorate, he said, and after nearly half a century stuffed away, Galen thought about sending it back to Japan.

Galen knows a man who works in Japan several times a year, and asked if there was some way to get the flag back to its rightful owners.

They were able to find a group of people who reunite items taken during World War II with families, and Galen gave them the flag.

The writings were painted onto the flag with think black ink. Many of the flags sent with Japanese soldiers carried messages of encouragement.

Galen's flag contained one vitally important clue to the mystery: a name.

After about six months, Galen said, he got word that the flag had been reunited.

"The names on the flag were not common names, and they were able to find the family that the flag belonged to," he said.

Galen said that he was glad to find the flag's rightful owners.

"The flag never meant anything to us, but if we were able to get it back to the family, I'm sure that it was something that meant a lot to them," he said.

Galen's wife, Hermina, said that if the roles were reversed, she would have wanted someone to send the flag back to her family.

"It's sentimental," Hermina said. "I think it was neat that it was able to happen."

Galen isn't the first to send back Japanese flags.

Over the years hundreds of signed Japanese flags have been sent back to families.

"I had thought that there wasn't one chance in 50,000 that they would ever get it back," Galen said. "There are probably flags all over the United States in boxes that would never be sent back.

'I was just lucky enough to want to get rid of it when I did."