ASTORIA, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Seventy years after the end of World War II, Americans who served are returning mementos of war to their rightful Japanese owners.

When they entered combat, young Japanese soldiers brought highly treasured flags with them. The flags were a piece of home, with encouraging messages and comforting words in Japanese. The soldiers would often carry them into the battlefields.

“All the people who cared about that person, all the people who thought about him, was going to war with him,” Rex Ziak told KOIN 6 News.

Ed Bartlein was 17 when he fought in World War 2. He spoke at a ceremony returning Japanese keepsakes to their families, March 23, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

During the course of the war, the flags became popular souvenirs for American soldiers. They were often taken from the belongings of Japanese soldiers that were killed in the battlefields.

Now, a local group called OBON 2015 is helping return the flags to families of war veterans in Japan.

“Something like 1.2 million Japanese never came home and never had any artifacts returned,” Jerry Bassett, the son of a World War II veteran, said.

Bassett’s father fought as part of the 112th Cavalry in the Philippines. He took one of the Japanese flags that belonged to a battlefield opponent he knew nothing about. Now, all these years later, the family is turning the flag over to OBON 2015 with the intention of returning it to the deceased Japanese soldier’s family.

Leland "Bud" Lewis took part in a ceremony that returned the flags to families of war veterans in Japan, March 23, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

“We decided to return it to its rightful owner, which is not us,” Bassett said.

For Leland “Bud” Lewis, it was the right thing to do now.

“Giving those flags back to the people who we took them from and make, give them closure,” he paused. “75 years. You can’t hate people forever.”

For World War II veterans now in their 90s, it is a kind act by an old enemy, and an emotional reminder of how fast time has gone by. All these years later, the flags are often seen as the only connection people have with their relatives killed in combat.