KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- The values of family, heritage and honor are central to the Air Force, and highly valued in many cultures.
For Senior Master Sgt. William Lowell Armstrong, 8th Logistics Readiness Squadron deployment and distribution flight superintendent, traveling to Japan to personally return a Japanese battle flag handed down through his family was the ultimate expression of these three things.
Armstrong traveled from Kunsan Air Base, where he is currently stationed, to the Gunma Gokoku Shrine, a place honoring the deceased from war, in Takasaki, Japan, for a ceremony on Feb. 14 to return a Japanese flag taken during World War II. His grandfather, Cpl. Lowell Armstrong, gained possession of the flag while serving in Japan during the war.
“I am truly grateful that my grandfather kept the flag safe and in great condition all those years and my family decided to return it to its rightful owners, as we know how much it means to the family,” said Armstrong. “My grandfather would be happy that this flag is being returned to its home.”
During the ceremony, Armstrong put on white gloves, unfolded the flag-- called a Good Luck Flag-- and presented it to Michio Miki and Hideo Ito, the nephews of Masashi Ito, a Japanese soldier and the original owner of the flag. A Good Luck Flag is a Japanese flag signed by loved ones. They have historically been presented to service members prior to entry into the military or before a deployment.
“It was a great surprise to have it returned like this out of millions of those that died,” Miki said. “I am thankful for the thoughtfulness of Mr. Armstrong’s grandson to return it like this.”
Before the ceremony, Armstrong had never seen the flag, and he didn’t even know of its existence until about two and a half years ago.
“Unfortunately, [my grandfather] never talked about his time in the service or the Pacific theater to anyone in the family,” said Armstrong. “We aren’t sure how he came into possession of the flag.”
Armstrong learned about the flag when his uncle, who obtained the flag after Lowell Armstrong passed away, reached out the Obon Society trying to return the flag. The Obon Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to returning Good Luck Flags to the family members of the original owner.
According to the Obon Society, Armstrong is the first active-duty grandson to participate in one of the flag repatriation ceremonies.
“It’s an honor to represent my family at the event,” said Armstrong. “My father, uncle and aunt regret they are unable to attend, however, I am honored to represent my family in this return ceremony. I was named after my grandfather and I am proud to carry his namesake. He was one of the kindest hardworking men anyone would ever meet. He would do anything for anyone.”