AURORA, Illinois--At the age of 92, Kenneth Udstad felt a sense of guilt for his actions of nearly 70 years ago.
Now, the U.S. veteran of World War II wants to return the items he took from dead Japanese soldiers and Japanese civilian homes on the Northern Mariana Islands of Saipan and Tinian.
Udstad served in the 4th Marine Division and was in charge of supplying ammunition and fuel for tanks. In the summer of 1944, he landed on Saipan for heavy fighting against the Imperial Japanese Army and Japanese civilians rounded up for the battle.
As the U.S. forces advanced, they came across burned or destroyed homes of the Japanese settlers.
Members of Udstad’s unit collected furniture and other souvenirs from the homes. Watches and guns were taken from the bodies of the Japanese soldiers.
Udstad gathered a set of carpenter’s tools from a home and personal photos that had been scattered by explosions from the fighting.
About 55,000 Japanese died on the island. The U.S. military suffered about 3,500 casualties.
Later, on Tinian, Udstad entered a foxhole that had been blown apart by a U.S. grenade. Seven or eight Japanese soldiers lay dead, Udstad said.
He noticed a piece of cloth sticking out of one soldier’s uniform. When he spread it out, he discovered it was a Japanese flag with words of encouragement written on it.
Udstad shoved the flag in his pocket. He also picked up a hat, watch, gun, bullets and memo pad.
On Tinian, about 10,000 Japanese died in the battle. The U.S. military’s casualties numbered around 400.
When asked why he took items of the enemy, Udstad was silent for a while. He then said everyone in his unit did so, and that he had no sense of guilt at the time because it was common in the military to bring back “souvenirs” from the battlefront.
He kept the items he took in a warehouse after the war ended in 1945.
A few months ago, he talked about the war with Karina Del Valle, a member of his church. Del Valle told Udstad that he should return the items because bereaved family members in Japan may be waiting for mementos of their loved ones.
Feeling a sense of guilt, Udstad decided he wanted to return the items.
He said if bereaved family members were found, he would like to apologize to them. He also said he would encourage his surviving unit members to return any items they had taken.
Udstad added that the war will not end for him until he returns the items.
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