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Flag unravels WWII history

Garry Heskett has a Japanese good luck flag that his father gained in a balttle in PNG in WW2. Photo: Rob Wright/ Coffs Coast Advocate
Garry Heskett has a Japanese good luck flag that his father gained in a balttle in PNG in WW2. Photo: Rob Wright/ Coffs Coast Advocate Rob Wright/ Coffs Coast Advocate

WHEN Vietnam veteran Garry Heskett was going through some of his late father's personal belongings last year, he never thought it would start a journey of discovery.

On that day Mr Heskett found a rare WWII Japanese military 'body flag' made of silk similar in design to the Japanese flag with handwriting on it.

Mr Heskett's only clue as to what the body flag was or meant was a note handwritten by his father saying:

"Japanese body flag worn into battle by Jap Soldiers. Autographed by his family. Wewak. New Guinea 1944".

The body flag was a mystery.

"I never knew they did that, we never did it," the local rugby identity said.

"Sometimes we'd take a photograph of our family or our wife or our kids or girlfriend, sometimes a letter but we didn't carry body flags like the Japanese did."

Mr Heskett sent an email and a photo of the flag to the Japanese embassy but the writing in the photo wasn't clear enough to decipher the original owner.

With the help of Miss Shiori Naka who is a Japanese student currently studying at the Coffs Harbour campus of Southern Cross University, the identity of the original owner of the body flag was found.

The family of Hajime Kawanaka has been contacted and although wishing to remain anonymous have happily accepted Mr Heskett's gesture of returning the body flag.

It is likely the flag's origin will probably never be known.

"The question as to whether Dad shot him and took it off him or there was one of the bodies there and he took it off him, I don't know," he said.

The decision to send the body flag was an easy one.

If the situation was reversed, the veteran said he'd like to receive something about his father even though it's now 68 years since the Aitape-Wewak campaign.

"That could've been his Dad," he said.

"I don't know if it is but it would be nice to know if it came off his body. They could say 'this is Dad's, there's his name and there's the neighbours from the village all signed it and said good luck for the war'. So I think it's a very sacred thing."

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