Kenneth David Sjogren went to war at age 25, in February 1942.
He was a cook in the U.S. Army National Guard and served in Europe and later the Philippines and New Guinea toward the end of World War II.
He never talked much about the war with his children and grandchildren.
But he did carry with him an item from the war: A flag he found in a cave in New Guinea with several dead Japanese soldiers.
Kenneth worked as a funeral director and later at an electric utility in Chicago. He died in 1988 at age 72.
When he passed away, his grandson Andrew Roth — who lives in Charlotte — was presented with his Army medals and ribbons. But the flag was missing.
It resurfaced this past October when Andrew’s aunt Nancy passed away. The flag was found among her possessions, and Nancy’s husband passed it along to Andrew.
“As much as I wanted to keep the flag for myself as a part of my family’s history, it was far more important to find out if I could locate the family of the soldier to whom the flag originally belonged,” Andrew wrote.
These flags were carried by most Japanese soldiers in World War II.
Family and friends would gather before the soldier went off to war. They’d write personal or inspiring messages and sign their names.
Andrew and his mother, Bonnie (Kenneth’s daughter) brought the flag to the Japanese Association in Charlotte, at the International House. Even 70 years later, the ink had held up well enough for them to read the writing on the flag.
Using the writing on the flag and Google, they were able to track down the town in which the flag’s owner lived.
The name had changed since World War II. The association sent a message to the town government. And from there, the town helped track down the man’s family.
The flag belonged to a man who lived in the city of Shitara.
About four hours south and west of Tokyo. His eldest son still lives in the area. The son had never known his father.
“I know that returning the flag to you and your family may bring back difficult memories of your father’s death,
but I hope it also brings you peace and comfort to receive one of your father’s possessions that I am sure provided him encouragement during his time as a soldier,” Andrew wrote.
A member of the Japanese Association personally flew the flag back to Japan in a hand-made wooden box.
The flag was returned to 13 members of the soldier’s family in the towns of Shitara and nearby Toyokawa in a ceremony that included the towns’ mayors in late February.
“Finally, he can come home,” Bonnie Roth said.
“It still makes me cry when I think about it. I am so glad that it has this ending to a long journey.”