Thomas M. Sawyer, Jr. during World War II. Courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS Archives.) This image cannot be reproduced without appropriate credit, or outside the guidelines of United States Fair Use (17 U.S.C., Section 107) without advance permission from the AFS Archives.
Thomas M. Sawyer, Jr. during World War II. Courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS Archives.) This image cannot be reproduced outside the guidelines of United States Fair Use (17 U.S.C., Section 107) without advance permission from the AFS Archives.

Thomas M. Sawyer was teaching English at a school in Honolulu, Hawaii, when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. After discovering he could not enlist with the U.S. Army, Sawyer volunteered for the American Field Service as a volunteer ambulance driver. He was sent to India in October and served with the 14th British Army in the Burma Campaign of 1943-1944. He was transferred to Italy in January 1945, serving with the British Liberation Armies in Belgium, Holland, and Germany until June, when he was released from service.

During his service in Burma Sawyer found a Japanese flag and a “belt of thousand stitches” (known as a Senninbari, which was given to Japanese soldiers by women as a symbol of good luck during the war), near Sittaung on the Chindwin River.  Many years later he discovered the items originally belonged to Asajiro Igarashi, a Japanese soldier who died in battle in Burma on September 21, 1944 at age 27.  Sawyer coordinated to have the flag and belt of a thousand stitches returned to Igarashi’s widow, Teru, in 1988 after he was able to locate her. Teru lived in the same house she lived in when she sent Asajiro off to war in early 1944.  Sawyer enclosed a letter with the items, noting:

“Everyone who was involved in those campaigns learned that war is hard, cruel, frightening business. And they now feel that those men who marched with them- and those who marched against them- have gone through the same trial and now together make up a brotherhood of men committed to a world based on law and justice rather than conflict and war.”

Teru sent Sawyer a letter of appreciation for delivering her husband’s last possessions to her and their two daughters, and thanked him for his kind words.

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