Processing the aftermath of war on a person’s psyche and soul is a complicated subject. Probably one of the biggest societal shifts the Global War on Terror has brought is our understanding and recognition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other combat-related conditions.

Everyone can recall those old veterans, be they from WWII, Korea, and increasingly from Vietnam, who “just didn’t talk about” their wartime service. Contrast that now with the abundance of veterans who openly share their experiences and the effects combat has had on them. Despite the monumental shift in how we talk about the psychological toll combat takes, many veterans still struggle with coping and finding resolution to their experiences. Many veterans have no idea their psychological health can be affected years after the fact, with unresolved feelings and memories lying dormant, until they manifest themselves in unforeseen ways. Another complicating factor is that every veteran’s experience, and their reaction and processing, is completely unique to them. There’s no cookie cutter solution for everyone.

A report from the Asssociated Press this week told the story of a Marine WWII veteran named Marvin Strombo. In 1944, fighting at the Battle of Saipan, Strombo came across a dead Japanese soldier with a piece of cloth protruding from his uniform. Pulling at the cloth, he discovered it was a hinomaru yosegaki—a good luck flag—and pocketed it as a souvenir.

The flags were very popular for Japanese servicemembers during World War II. They typically contained ornate calligraphy and signatures from dozens of the soldiers’ family and friends, wishing them well as they went off to fight. You can easily find dozens of photos of American Marines posing with the captured flags, a symbol of victory over their enemy.

Iwo Jima Marines pose with captured good luck flag, courtesy of Wikipedia

Because they were symbols of victory, thousands of Americans brought them back home from the war, where they have gone to live on in basements, or attics, or memorabilia collections. Such a display was where Strombo had kept his for years. After attempting to ascertain where the flag came from and who it belonged to, with no success, the flag stayed put. Eventually, Strombo was put in contact with an American non-profit dedicated to reuniting the good luck flags with their families in Japan. Through that group, the Obon Society, Strombo was put in direct contact with the fallen Japanese soldier’s brother, who had never learned of how his brother had died.

Now the Marine veteran is traveling to Japan to hand-deliver the flag to his family, as part of forgiveness and closure for that chapter of his life.

The story stands out as indicative of the complicated effect that war has on a person. Strombo took that flag 73 years ago, and at the moment it seemed like the right thing to do. Now an old man, the flag and the meaning behind it was significant enough for him to travel all the way to Japan to see it returned as part of a healing process.

The Obon Society says they get about five inquiries a day from World War II veterans trying to return these flags before they pass away.