It is not surprising if a soldier takes an item or more from those who died in war. Kenneth Udstad from Illinois can testify to that. He did the same almost 70 years ago during World War II. Now 92, Udstad wants to return his loot to the families of the Japanese who died in the Northern Marianas.
Udstad was commissioned in WWII under the 4th Marine Division. He was assigned to supply ammunitions and fuel for U.S. military tanks. A year before the end of the war, Udstad was in Saipan and Tinian, both under the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas. The battle between the U.S. and Japan was so tremendous that 55,000 Japanese died in Saipan and another 10,000 in Tinian. The U.S. suffered 3,500 casualties in the northern island while the southern island only accounted for 400 casualties.
Besides the great loss of lives, a great number of properties were also taken by the American soldiers, which included Udstad and his colleagues. The 92-year old veteran recalled coming across a Japanese community destroyed by fire. Items belonging to the dead like guns, surviving photos, watches, even carpentry tools were taken as loot. A foxhole blown by the American troops in Tinian also revealed seven or eight dead Japanese soldiers. One of the items he took from the dead was a Japanese flag imprinted with messages from the soldier’s family and relatives. Such flags were believed to bring good luck.
The veteran admitted feeling no guilt while taking the “souvenirs” from war but now has a change of heart. Encouraged by a churchmate Karina Del Valle, Udstad wants to return the items he took to the bereaved families of the Japanese who died in Saipan and Tinian. He confessed that he would like to personally apologize to the families when given the opportunity to meet them. He also said that he would encourage his surviving colleagues to do the same.
[via Asahi Shimbun]