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Personal effects of Battle of Okinawa soldier found and returned to family after 74 yrs

Koichi Konishi is seen in this image provided by Noriko Yamaguchi.
The triangular protractor with Koichi Konishi's name carved into it is seen in the hands of his daughter, Noriko Yamaguchi, in Nara on July 31, 2019. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Onishi)

NARA -- An item appearing to be a triangle-shaped protractor with a World War II soldier's name carved into it was found in a former military command tunnel in Arakaki, Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, and returned to the serviceman's family as one of his personal effects some 74 years after his death.

It belonged to Koichi Konishi, who died in June 1945 aged just 27. The object was received by Noriko Yamaguchi, 74, a resident of Nara Prefecture in west Japan and his eldest daughter. As she stroked the item, she said, "Welcome home dad. You always wanted to come back to a lively home."

The protractor was found in April 2017 by Naha resident Yasuo Minamino, who gathers the remains of war dead in Okinawa. Due to being made of plastic, a part of the item was missing. But, the name "Koichi Konishi" was carved into it using what appeared to be a nail or some other object.

A man with the same first and last name, hailing from Nara Prefecture, is included among the list of those who died in the Battle of Okinawa written on the Cornerstone of Peace in Itoman. The Mainichi Shimbun used the information to investigate the whereabouts of his bereaved family.

Based on records of the war dead, and information from residents in the Yurugi district of Nara where Konishi had lived before he went to war, it became clear that Yamaguchi was his kin. Minamino then entrusted the object to the Mainichi Shimbun, and it was delivered back to the family on July 31.

Yamaguchi is Konishi's eldest child. Born in February 1945, after her father had gone to war, she has no memories of direct contact with her dad. A letter from the battlefield shows his anticipation of her birth, in which he wrote, "When I read books, I begin to dwell on my feelings of paternity."

The tunnel in Arakaki, Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, where the protractor was found is seen in this photo provided by Yasuo Minamino.

Yamaguchi's mother, Chizuko, who died in 2013, spoke about her father in a way that was almost like a lullaby, saying things like, "Your father is a great man. As his daughter, carry that pride and lead your life."

Records remain of Konishi's activities as a member of the commanding branch of the army field heavy artillery first corps during the intense fighting in Itoman, but his remains have not been found.

Shinobu Yoshihama, an expert on the battle of Okinawa and a former professor at Okinawa International University, explained the significance of the item. "It's possible triangular protractors were carried to measure bullet trajectories. That his name remains on the item, and that it could be returned to his family, is close to miraculous," he said.

Noriko Yamaguchi is seen talking about her father whilst holding the protractor with his name carved into it, in Nara on July 31, 2019. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Onishi)

In 2003, Yamaguchi and her mother visited Itoman and prayed in front of the Cornerstone of Peace where his name is written. Her mother said, "I brought our child," and broke into tears then and there.

"It's been 74 years since the war ended, but for me even now the war is not over. A precious life was stolen by the conflict, and the family left behind was thrown to a sad fate," Yamaguchi says. Her eyes fell to the returned protractor, and she continued, speaking to her father, "Thank you for giving me life. I will continue to live it to the end."

(Japanese original by Keiko Shioji, Nara Bureau)

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