Efforts are gathering pace by Japanese and American volunteers seeking to return war mementos to the families of Japanese soldiers who died in battle during World War II.

In many cases, Japanese flags were snatched from the bodies of Japanese soldiers as battlefield souvenirs by U.S. soldiers.

Japanese troops carried the flags as reminders of home, as well as patriotic symbols.

When a Japanese man was drafted during World War II, his family and neighbors would wish him luck and write their names on the flag, which he would carry folded under his uniform for good luck.

Nobuko Iinuma, a Japanese writer in Los Angeles, received a blood stained flag 17 years ago from her neighbor, who asked her to return it to the family of the original owner. Iinuma has been searching for relatives of the soldier ever since.

Gold Mayer, Iinuma’s neighbor, fought in the Philippines in 1944. He retrieved the flag from the dead soldier’s body and decided to return it to his family. But Mayer died 15 years ago without seeing his wish granted.

On the flag, the message “Buun Choukyu” (May your fortune in battle last long) is addressed to “Mr. Sugisaki” with the signatures of his friends and family.

“I even wrote a letter to the Ministry of Health and Labor in July, but we have not been able to locate the family yet,” Iinuma said.

Many Japanese flags, swords and other articles have been sold in Internet auctions and flea markets.

One description of a flag offered on the e-Bay Web site reads, “American-captured, 1945 Japanese war flag, very rare!! Flag seized at Luzon beach 1945.”

“There should be several hundred thousand flags still in the United States,” said Yasuhiko Kaji, a 71-year-old retired physician living in Ohio.

Kaji, who came to the U.S. to study medicine as an exchange student in 1968, started looking for ways to return the articles collected from battlefields in 1971, when he helped return a family album to a Japanese family.

It is not easy or rewarding work because the family members often do not accept the flags or other articles gratefully, he said.

Sometimes, they refuse to accept a flag because they feel they “don’t need it anymore,” Kaji said.

And sometimes the seller raises the price of the flag to as much as $2,000, although such articles usually sell for $200.

“I’m continuing my efforts to reclaim the belongings of my fellow Japanese soldiers,” said Kaji, who has successfully returned about 30 flags and 300 swords to various families.

“There is a time limit for these activities, as the family members who remember the soldiers are getting old,” Kaji said. “We will lose lots of articles unless we systematically coordinate this effort.”

Last year, Kaji and high school classmate Kiyoshi Nishiha, from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, created a Web site that exhibits the flags and other items they have collected, seeking information about the families concerned.

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