DOUGLASSVILLE, Pa. (AP) — Judy Reitz was making turkey suppers in the kitchen at St. Paul’s UCC in Amityville a couple of months ago when she got a call on her cellphone.
She didn’t recognize the number, but she decided to take the call.
“I have good news for you,” the voice on the other end said. “We found the grandson of the soldier.”
No further explanation was needed. In a frenzy, the retired Douglassville teacher ran around the kitchen sharing the news.
“I was blabbing to everybody,” said Reitz, even though most didn’t know what she was talking about. “I was so excited.”
The news: A Japanese soldier’s diary that Reitz’ father brought back from World War II had made its way home to the soldier’s grandson, Toshie Nagasawa, in Fukushima Prefecture. The call was the fulfillment of hopes Reitz had when, in the spring of 2018, she sent the diary to the Obon Society in Oregon. The nonprofit founded by Rex and Keiko Ziak seeks to heal wartime wounds by returning Japanese flags and other materials to families in Japan.
“I had high hopes it would make its way back to his family,” said Reitz, 76, who taught in the Daniel Boone School District for 32 years. “I felt his name might be somewhere in the writing.”
Seaman Merle K. Bock, of Earlville, was with the Navy Seabees on the island of Tinian in the Pacific Ocean. Resistance to American forces was strong, and Japanese troops were dug into caves on the island. In one of those caves, Bock found the diary of a deceased Japanese soldier. He brought it home, and after his death in 1986, Reitz, his daughter, got the tiny black book. Attempts to have its translated failed, so she tucked it away in a plastic container.
Then, early last year, she read in Reader’s Digest about Oregon’s Oban Society. She wasted no time in rushing to the Douglassville post office and mailing the treasured artifact.
A year and a day later, Reitz received confirmation that the society had found the soldier’s grandson: “It is our pleasure to report that we have found the family in Japan that belongs to your diary,” the society wrote in an April 6 email. “The Japanese family is eager to receive these remains.”
Included was the name of the soldier, Kiyoshichi Nagasawa, who died at Tinian Island on Aug. 2, 1944.
Of the 2 million Japanese soldiers who died in the war, Rex Ziak said, 1.1 million were declared missing in action. A tiny box with a pebble or piece of coral in it was the only notification families had that a loved one had died in combat. So when diaries, flags or officers’ swords make their way back to Japan, grieving families rejoice and emotional wounds heal, nearly 74 years after the war ended.
“These items are the first and only trace of their loved one that these families have gotten,” Ziak said. “It is their only spiritual connection to them.”
Receiving a loved one’s possession is a more powerful link to Americans than diplomacy or goodwill among governments, he said.
“It’s the victor returning items out of the compassion of their hearts,” Ziak said. “It’s a message of peace and friendship that resonates throughout Japan.”
“We have an obligation to return them to their families,” said Reitz. “They don’t belong to us. They belong to them.”