GREAT FALLS, Mont. – We continue our Help Me Ben mini-series on family history. We are taking a look at World War Two memorabilia, but it’s really conversations with the children of the men who fought for our freedom, the men of the greatest generation.
This began with Brenda Clark. She has a Japanese Yosegaki Hinomaru, or “Good Luck Flag” from WWII. Her desire is to find the Japanese soldier, or the family of the soldier, and return the flag to it’s rightful home. I’ve helped Brenda find the name of that soldier, Kenzo Kobayashi, and we are working with a team in Japan to find his family.
But the story of this Japanese flag has inspired other Montanans to open up their past, and take a deeper look at their own history. For one man in Great Falls, it was a cedar chest that stood between him, and knowing his father more. Now, 80 years of history proudly hang on the wall.
"This is a photograph of the Bunch" says Will Stubsten.
No, not the Brady Bunch. The USS Bunch. A destroyer escort, and the home for United States Sailor Lloyd Stubsten during his time in World War Two.
"One the surface, it's just a piece of material.” Stubsten says. “I think it's silk. But the symbolism, it still means so much today."
Will is talking about the most colorful piece on his wall. His own Japanese battle flag, this one the official flag of the wartime Japanese Navy.
"That flag in there was put in a cedar chest for 70 years.” Stubsten remembers. “Dad never talked a lot about what he did during World War Two. I knew he had the flag, but I never really saw it."
When Lloyd past away, Will decided not to keep that cedar chest closed.
"No, I am not going to fold it back up again. I am going to find out as much about it as I can."
It remained open, and he became fascinated. The Bunch was the first ship that steamed into Shanghi, China after the war ended. The story is still fuzzy though about how Lloyd came to own this piece of history.
"I was always very curious, but it was never a topic of discussion.” Stubsten says. “Maybe he thought, my dad thought that I was too young to understand and know. That could very well be. But now, I would dearly love to know more information from him."
Instead of Japanese signatures, this naval flag is lined with American names, names of the men who served on the Bunch. Will has done his research in making sure they are not lost.
"This stuff really happened.” Stubsten says. “These little instances like this right here. It's not part of a movie or anything like that, even though you see this flag flying in a lot of movies, but this is the real thing.
And time spent learning, listening, and remembering is critical. But it’s the things in our closet that will keep them alive forever.
"We can watch movies all the time that they have on TV on veterans' day and on memorial weekend, all those war movies.” Stubsten says. “But the real stories are with these pieces of history that are in people's cedar chests."
We appreciate Will sharing with us the items in that cedar chest. Will tells us he will be passing the flag, along with other items of his father’s, to his own son. But both men believe that eventually, the flag needs to go to a museum, where the next generation can view it, and learn from it. For now.
Will says he will honor his father, and the men of the USS Bunch, right there in his home.
And this is what I am all about with “Help Me Ben”, bringing those stories and solutions. If you have something you need help with, or want me to look into, visit our website, MontanaRightNow.com, and click on the Help Me Ben tab.