On this day when many of us are watching hours of football, sentiments continue to be divided on the significance of a flag and the ways in which we honor it.
It’s just a piece of cloth, really, but held high above a battlefield it is meant to evoke pride and purpose on one side, fear and despair to the other.
To the victor, it represents a nation triumphant. To the vanquished, an empire humbled.
But not today, and not with this particular flag.
It once flew over the battleship Nagato, when Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto gave the order to attack Pearl Harbor.
Four years later, the Nagato, battered and blackened, surrendered in Tokyo Bay.
The flag was scooped up as a souvenir, taken back to America, and eventually returned to Pearl Harbor aboard the USS Missouri, where the war in the Pacific came to an official end.
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But the Yamamoto flag would have one more journey to make.
The nearly 80-year saga of the flag ends where it began: in Japan. It’s still just a piece of cloth, but after today, it will symbolize something far greater than either country could have anticipated.
“It was extremely important for us to make a connection with Nagaoka city and to return the flag from the Missouri to its rightful home,” said Mike Carr, USS Missouri Memorial Association.
Nagaoka is the place of Yamamato’s birth and burial, a city destroyed by American firebombs in the last days of the war.
“Now we are living in peace and Nagaoka and Honolulu are sister cities, so this flag has become a symbol of the future and reminds us not to forget the past,” said Katsuhiro Takano, International Exchange Association.
“It’s a time to remember that we once shared a horrible war together,” said Mike Weidenbach, USS Missouri Memorial curator.
The exchange is especially meaningful for the two former enemies, now allies, who together face new challenges and new hostilities. Just 700 miles across the sea of Japan is North Korea.
“Now we hear those sirens again after more than 70 years of silence. It is an uncertain world, but our relationship with America is strong and this flag is the proof. We will stand together,” said Takashi Hoshi, Yamamoto Memorial Museum.
Even yellowed and bullet-ridden, the flag commands attention.
But its power is in the story of how it inspired an empire, then fell to disgrace, and rose once again to be a symbol of alliance and hope.