WW II battle flag unites granddaughter of US Marine and great-niece of Japanese soldier

New York was the meeting place this month for two women whose grandfather and great-uncle met as enemies on a World War II battlefield in the South Pacific.

Kelly Cowin, 34, of Riverton, Utah, and Ayaka Sano, 34, of Toyko, Japan, became connected through the tragedy of war -- and a Japanese battle flag, according to The Journal News.

The flag belonged to Sano’s great-uncle, Fujio Kawasaki, the paper reported.

Mortally wounded during fighting on Guam in 1944, the 19-year-old Kawasaki held the flag out to another 19-year-old, Marine Gil McCormack and Cowin’s grandfather, according to the paper.

McCormack, the lone survivor of his 30-man unit on Guam, kept the flag, stashed in the attic, haunted by Kawasaki’s death.

Japanese soldier Fujio Kawasaki's battle flag. (Tess McCormack)

Japanese soldier Fujio Kawasaki's battle flag. (Tess McCormack)

“I still see the face of that young boy,” he told his wife, explaining why he had gotten upset when she had it framed and had given it to him as a Father’s Day gift. “Even though he was dying, this young boy held the flag up to protect it.”

His explanation came as he was dying of cancer, The Journal News reported.

Tess McCormack, of Westchester, N.Y., told the paper it was her husband’s dying wish that she return the flag to the dead soldier’s family.

The flag bore writing, including Kawasaki’s name, and with help she was able to track down Kawasaki’s family. She returned the flag in 1999, the paper reported.

Sano was 17 when the flag arrived in Japan.

“My grandmother didn’t know how her brother, Fujio, died in the war, or even where he died,” Sano told The Journal News. “By receiving the flag from Mrs. McCormack, she knew how he died and where he died. She finally knew that he actually died. She was grateful for the kindness.”

She sent a letter to McCormack to thank her for the gift.

“I am only 17-year-old,” she wrote, according to the paper. “So, I don’t know about war. But, I’m aware of how, up to now I haven’t known the real value of peace. But I think peace starts from the thing like your returning the flag.”

The years went by and then Cowin wondered if she could track Sano down. The inspiration was a story about her grandfather in VFW Magazine. The author was her grandmother, the paper reported.

“Everyone in the family had read it and there was something about that article that spoke to me,” Cowin told the Journal News. “There’s so much complexity to it: There’s a war element, a love story between Tess and Gil, there’s this idea that, generations later, two girls of these war-torn families can come together to bridge a gap.”

Cowin used Facebook to reach out to Sano, but then waited a long time to hear back, according to the paper.

When Sano responded, the two women exchanged messages and swapped photos.

Then on May 14 they met for the first time at the Russian Tea Room in Manhattan. Cowin didn’t know Sano would be there, The Journal News reported.

“I said, ‘Hi, my name is Kelly,’ and didn’t think anything about it," Cowin told the paper. "Then she said, ‘Hi, my name’s Ayaka.’ I have a visceral reaction. My head snapped back. I took a good couple of seconds trying to mentally process.”

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