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Fine Woodworking reader makes flag box to honor WWII soldier

comments (20) August 29th, 2013 in blogs

Ben_Blackmar Ben Blackmar, Contributor
thumbs up 38 users recommend

Doug and Tom with the finished product.
Figured crotch walnut top.
The box complete with its special contents.
Hand-carved handles from figured walnut.
The flag, returned to its original owners family.
Woodworker Tom Smith
Doug and Tom with the finished product. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Doug and Tom with the finished product.

Photo: courtesy of Tom Smith

When honor and respect are due, the very best woodworking is required. Doug Rachac knew this. That's why he hired Fine Woodworking reader Tom Smith-- to make a presentation box to preserve a Japanese flag, and to honor the family of a fallen WWII soldier.


This box was built for a very specific purpose: To travel thousands of miles to return its contents to its rightful owners. The flag was taken from a fallen Japanese soldier during the heat of battle. Doug inherited it from his grandfather when he was young, and always got the feeling that his grandfather wished he could return it to that soldier's family.


Here's the video about his journey to do just that.



Tom based the box on a design by Doug Stowe that was in FWW #201, so he was starting with a great design, then he added hand-carved handles to give it an Asian look, and to ease handling. After that, the decision to use crotch walnut and bird's-eye maple just put it over the top.


I asked Tom what the hardest thing about making the box was, and he told me:

"The handles were a challenge because the figured walnut tended to chip out. I made several pairs, and after some hand work, I had a nice set that held together. The extra effort was worth it-- they give the box an exceptional feel."


After construction Tom finished the box with several layers of hand-rubbed lacquer.


The flag and box have now returned to Japan, and were presented to the family of the fallen Japanese soldier. The presentation of the flag was received with much emotion and gratitude, and this special box is now preserving two family legacies.

posted in: blogs, walnut, maple, asian inspired, flag, flag box, world war II, wwii

Comments (20)

DuncanSRobertson DuncanSRobertson writes: Wow!!! unbelievable!!! Absolutely regardless of the validity of the sentiments that have been voiced in this current blog item,
Quit it!!
This is a wood working forum. Geo-politicial opinions have no place here. The next thing we know we'll have a black guy make a box and some not dead yet bigot will go on and on over just how good a job he did even for a N@%#r.
The Box is beautiful and that needs to be the basis for all comments. I am a little saddened that the forum moderator hasn't stepped in to stop the "off the topic" diatribe.

Posted: 3:48 pm on September 18th

HandMadeByRock HandMadeByRock writes: First, let me say the box is a piece of beautiful craftsmanship!
Next, let's move on to the comments. I have a box - a simple one, a cigar box with his medals I was given by my grandfather's daughters when he passed. He was an infantryman in WWI who was wounded by shrapnel from an exploding shell, gassed, and field triage determined he would not survive, and so he was left. He was not ready to die, so he crawled back to our lines, was hospitalized, and then eventually healed and returned to the States. Before that, of course, his wife (my grandmother) was notified he had perished. I can remember as a little boy sitting on his lap and asking him about the long, jagged, gnarled purple scars on his arms where the metal shards pierced his flesh, and he showed me the healed rip in his side that was also speared. I was given the box because I was the first grandson to serve in combat . . . in Viet Nam. If anyone wants a perspective on war, read Edward Tick's book War and The Soul. Some have commented they have relatives who served but never talk about war. There is a reason. The Japanese were patriotic for Japan as we were patriotic for America, whether it was WWII ( a "good" war) or Viet Nam ( a questionable endeavor). War is political, and few of us have access to the intel that determines what happens between Nations. But in the end it is us on the ground who will determine not how nations see each other but how people see each other. I admire Tom and his grandfather to see beyond the Hollywood images and reach out to our "enemies". I meet every week with a group of Nam vets and we deal with our collective guilt over the things we did for flag, Sunday afternoon baseball, and Mom's apple pie. We are proud of the role we played, but we recognize how we were led astray and we feel for our comrades who didn't make it back, and many of us see in our memories the looks of other men as young as we were but on the other "team" who were no less brave, no less patriotic, just less lucky. I don't know the figures for WWII, but I know that the number of men lost in combat in Nam is roughly 58,000, and the number of Nam vets who have committed suicide is double that. These are survivors who came home and couldn't find peace. And there is a reason why the suicide rate for our Middle East conflicts is 15-20 soldiers a day. Some have mentioned the need to forgive our enemies - that I understand on a very personal level, and it is a battle I struggle with every day. But I also recognize the truth behind it - forgiveness is the first step on the path to peace. I don't presume to know the history of Gracetile - I only know my own history. But I have seen things done for the best of reasons that bother me still today, so I would not pass judgement on others, but I only ask people to look closely at what they think is true.Sorry for going on a rant.
Posted: 11:19 pm on September 8th

stev01 stev01 writes: I would just like to say in respect to my great uncle who fought in the war with HMRN and was left with great trauma, that he would have been in favour of anything that helped people put the whole thing behind them.
Posted: 11:57 am on September 8th

stev01 stev01 writes: I don't want to go on and on, and I apologise for using the word ignorance as it was probably uncalled for given your family's connection to this. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that in my opinion this is a positive move.
Posted: 10:39 am on September 8th

GRACETILE GRACETILE writes: Gee, I don't know where to start , Stev01. You missed the point . Where talking about a prayer flag the enemy used in hopes of killing every person that did not were his uniform. You have not read much about your war time enemy's . In wwII almost all american signed up after dec. 7th 1941 including our women , to put down this evil. And the grandfather never said the enemy was not evil , you would be hard pressed to say that after he retrived the flag from the enemy body after the battle which likely killed soldiers in his platoon . War is bad ,no way around it but you pick your sides win ,lose , or draw. This is a wood forum website not a place to glorify our enemy's history that killed us , with a worship flag. I do think this article should never been posted, givin the ignorance of the topic. Yes I am anti war, but when it is comes, you must know who your enemy is and what they think.

You have not felt the pain in your family's past
Posted: 8:59 am on September 8th

stev01 stev01 writes: Gracetile and friends, it's like you've written a hallmark card to ignorance. The whole point is that his grandad didn't believe that the Japanese soldier was evil. Most soldiers in World War Two didn't have much of a choice but to fight. War is fought by governments but it is individual people who pay the huge costs involved, most Japanese and German soldiers were ordinary young boys forced into conflict just as our troops were. They weren't blindly following, they were pushed into it literally and through massive social pressure of the war machine. Can you say that if you were born in Japan at this time that you wouldn't have been taken in?
Posted: 6:34 am on September 8th

GRACETILE GRACETILE writes: I not sure this gentleman understands what the significant's of this flag was at the time . It was a pray/good luck flag so as to bring an end to his enemy ( US soldiers) , to kill as many as possible for the emperor . This was a very dark time in the worlds history
and many men lost there lives blindly following there leaders cause. This was a trophy of war not a lost coin or painting by a find artist but a decree to kill as many as possible before there own death. Your compassion is honorable , to a degree. But think of the other people who have suffer greatly at the hands of evil and this soldiers decree was he nations, to inslave the world by force and death. There is a reason why soldiers don't talk about the war, my father was one who did not want to relive the horror and the shame of killing . No box will hide the evil inside, no compassion will tell the truth within.
Posted: 12:39 am on September 8th

Woodsmithy Woodsmithy writes: Your lack of understanding and compassion saddens me. This is an act of kindness for a family who lost a love one. My insignificant addition of the box is only a intended to show respect for a relic that might bring some comfort to the family.

"Your greatness is measured by your kindness; your education and intellect by your modesty; your ignorance is betrayed by your suspicions and prejudices, and your real caliber is measured by the consideration and tolerance you have for others.
William J.H. Boetcker (1873-1962)
Posted: 8:23 pm on September 7th

Paikea Paikea writes: Barsmars - What an utterly disgusting and contemptible comment. People, the war was four generations ago, it's time to let go of the hatred and move on.
Posted: 5:20 pm on September 7th

barsmars barsmars writes: The Japanese pride themselves on their tradition of fine woodworking craftsmanship. Now, as their collective memories of a brutal, foolish, arrogant endeavour in their history fades, they get presented with a little reminder. - Wrapped up in a piece of craftsmanship that kicks their ass on yet another front. Nice.
Posted: 4:22 pm on September 7th

knut knut writes: Every nation has people who will be cruel and ruthless given the opportunity. Forgiveness and reconciliation are the only way to break the circle of hatred. That of course is easier said than done, but it's the only way to do it as far as I know. So I think it is an honorable and humane gesture to send that flag to the Japanese soldiers family.
Posted: 3:36 pm on September 7th

maztec maztec writes: To continue the sins of the father, to hold the child responsible for the sins of father, is madness.

Beautiful box, wonderful sentiment, and a touching story.
Posted: 12:01 pm on September 7th

Archermmx98 Archermmx98 writes: As a fan of wood working, it is a great box. But seeing what it is carrying is a much different feeling. We all know what Japanese soldiers did to Asian people before and during the WWII. I am from China and I have friends who had lost their loved ones to the hands of Japanese soldier. And most of them were civilians when killed. There is no room to list even 0.1% of those crimes here. The flag was the symbol of their great feeling when they were doing the horrible things. So I am not so sure the meaning of making such a beautiful box to carry a flag that was soaked by blood.
As human being, we need to forgive those who have done bad things. However, this will only work if they admit what they have done is wrong. Japanese, at least some of them, have not admitted what they did in WWII is wrong. We can see that every year, many Japanese are still worshiping the war criminals in Yasukuni Shrine.
Posted: 11:53 am on September 7th

LaurenceL LaurenceL writes: I read here the comments of families of those who served and of some who died during WWII. May I offer another point of view?
My father served well before the war. My uncles served and my mother served here at home as a nurse caring for those who were wounded.She later took care of her brother who was wounded in Germany.
My father in law, and every member of his family served too, but is a much more complex way then did my family. You see my father in law, who is one of the finest men I've ever know, is Japanese American. He, and 110,000 others were put in the "camps" here in America. Later he tried to go to college but was rejected as a "security risk" simply because of his ancestry. He did manage to find college that would accept him but was then drafted into the US Army where he served in Tokyo in the Military Intelligence unit just after the surrender.
Returning to the States he continued his education, receiving advanced degrees in engineering from Stanford. The funny follow up story was that he was invited to attend his 50th high school reunion but as was never allowed to graduate from that school it was arranged for him to give the key note address as the oldest member of the graduating class of that year. Sometimes it takes a long time to set things right.
When my wife and I were married he chose not to attend our wedding because I'm not Asian. As time passed he came to understand that his anger, no matter how justified of the many injustices he had endured, only hurt him. As he remarked " Hate destroys everyone and everything it touches. I learned I had to forgive and fill my life with love." This from a very wise and humble man. And I am humbled more for the privilege of knowing him.
The act of forgivness and reconciliation does not deminish the sacrafice of those lost, nor does it wash clean the crimes commited. But it does lift the burden of useless anger and of hate, and thus enables us all to embrace life and discover the healing power of love.
Posted: 10:04 am on September 7th

tmdonoesq tmdonoesq writes: The attack on Pearl Harbor was the not the worst of Japanese atrocities committed in Korea, Manchuria, China and the Phillipines. But war is not a genteel endeavor. We tend to forget that American soldiers who face the horrors of war also lose their humanity at times. The native Americans, victims of My Lai in Vietnam and the victims of Sergeant Bales in Kandahar provide glimpses of how war changes us. Much is made of Pearl Harbor, but the thousands of civilian men,, women and children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki paid dearly for the crimes of the Japanese military. From a reader whose 17 year old uncle gave up his life for his country on June 6, 1944 Omaha Beach, Normandy.
Posted: 8:42 am on September 7th

bpepper bpepper writes: Gracetile,
I think the sentiment here is that we, as the descendants of former combatants, can move on and find grounds for mutual forgiveness and acceptance as sentient human beings. The war between Japan and the United States is long over. It took a huge toll on both sides. Children and grandchildren of former enemies can be friends - and hopefully never intentionally find themselves in armed hostilities again.
This was a gracious gesture of peace and goodwill.
Posted: 8:37 am on September 7th

DougStowe DougStowe writes: Beautiful... Well done. I have a few service bars and pins and my father's dog tags from WWII. You've given me inspiration for my next box.
Posted: 7:17 am on September 7th

JohnAIA JohnAIA writes: A wonderful man who ran the neighborhood grocery was a WWII veteran that spent four years as a combat engineer fighting the Japanese in the jungles. He brought back no souvenirs of dead enemy combatants, but did share the stories with those who cared to listen. He had great respect for his enemy as a fighter, but none as a person, just as he and other soldiers did. HIs unit took no prisoners, and he was proud of that; they never tortured them, but allowed them to die quickly for their emperor. I wonder if Ben would have returned that flag. Personally, I think what the man did in memory of his grandfather is quite honorable.
Posted: 6:36 am on September 7th

stev01 stev01 writes: Its incredible to hear old soldiers acknowledge the bravery of the other side. I can't imagine the fear they experienced at each others hands, and to get on with life after all that horror is amazing. It's a great box and I think the sentiment is a very positive one.
Posted: 3:36 am on September 7th

GRACETILE GRACETILE writes: My father and mother in-law were prisoners of the Japanese before the start of world war 2 in south Korea, they could only speak Japanize or be killed! they were starved almost to death. They were very young at the time . I just don't have the same good feeling that this man has. This Japanese soldier was killed trying to kill american soldiers. Why don't I have the same warm fuzzy feeling , just because the flag was in a great box? I guess Dec.7 1941 is all but forgotten.
Posted: 5:13 pm on September 6th

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