NT helps reunite WWII flag with fallen soldier’s brother

Japanese flag found in basement archives room at Winnetka campus


New Trier

In 1944, as 21 year old Tokachi Shimizu went off to war, he brought his flag, covered in handwritten names and good luck wishes from his family, friends and neighbors. His flag was a type called “yosegaki hinomaru” — a good luck flag.

According to History teacher and Archives Facilitator Susan Holderread during construction work at the Winnetka campus in 2015, a maintenance worker found the WWII flag behind the walls of a basement archive room, according to history teacher and archive facilitator Susan Holderread. It’s still unclear how the flag ended up there, but with the help of Japanese language class and club members, the flag has been reutned to his family so that Shimuzu’s brother and sister are able to remember him from the flag.

Sending the flag from the school to Shimizu’s family was a long process, started by faculty members Holderread and Gardiner Funo O’Kain, then furthered by Japanese language teacher and club sponsor Naomi Suzuki and her students.

After hearing of the flag, Holderread researched with her students and advisees at the Harold Washington library to investigate the newspapers that were attached to the flag. Holderread knew this wasn’t something a high school should have. Along with Funo, they were all able to reunite the flag with the soldier’s family.

“I am very gratified on how this process turned out. So many students were able to be involved and this had such an emotional importance to everyone. Without Ms. Funo, I don’t think this would have happened,” said Holderread.

In an effort to return the flag in a timely matter, Funo contacted the Obon Society, a non-profit group that provides opportunities for personal items taken during war to be returned to families.

Right when the group was about to send the flag back to Shimizu’s family, the Obon soceity told school representatives they could send letters along with the flag to Teruo Shimizu, Taikichi Shimizu’s brother.

Students sent 45 written letters in Japanese to Teruo Shimizu along with his brother’s flag. This fall, Shimizu responded.

“During the 90 years of my life, I have never received letters that moved me so much,” Shimizu wrote, “I pray for the further development of New Trier High School. I also pray for the good health and development and growth of New Trier High School students.”

His response touched many people. In fact, Suzuki’s favorite part was everyone writing letters and getting a response back from Shimizu.

“It was a very touching class project. Students were able to use their Japanese to write from the heart. They will remember this because not every student has this experience,” said Suzuki.

Sophmore Japanese language student Aiden Moore expressed that without the resources and classes at NT, this process may have never happened.

“The fact that I had the opportunity to write to Mr. Shimizu’s brother was an amazing experience. I wasn’t surprised when he responded, but what he said was very sincere and it made me happy to hear his gratitude,” Moore said.

Similarly sophmore Vivian Kim said, “It’s so interesting to be at a school that has a rich history. This is something you would expect to hear on the news and something that you wouldn’t expect to experience personally.”

In fact, NT’s efforts in returning the flag drew comments from the public.

Julie Hannon and Katsushi Nagao wrote a message: “I can only try to imagine what Mr. Shimizu and his family felt when they received the flag and letters. It lifts my heart to think of the incredible opportunities for your students.You have achieved an unforgettable success with the flag project. Congratulations, and all the best to you and your program!”