In recent months, stories of America’s WWII heroes have come to the forefront at Museum Textile Services. Our work often reminds us that few things can convey the horror and bravery of warfare more intimately than historic clothing and textiles.
In August, 2009, Museum Textile Services received for examination an extraordinary Japanese flag. The small white square of cotton is emblazoned with a red rising sun encircled with inscriptions in ink. The flag also has a variety of stains and remnants of paper at two corners from which it once hung.
From the Pacific to Andover, the flag endured unknown travails to arrive at this point in time. Accompanying letters tell us of a young U.S. Merchant Marine, Captain W. H. Senior, who discovered the soiled and torn flag on a battlefield at Guadalcanal. His widow donated the flag to the Boston Marine Society, which promised that the flag and its story would be preserved. MTS staff cleaned, mounted, and framed the flag, fulfilling that promise.
Commonly known as a Kamikaze Flag, inscribed rising sun images were known to have been carried into combat by a Japanese pilots. The inscriptions are said to be spiritual words relating to Shinto beliefs. Shinto teachings were used to reinforce nationalist beliefs and encourage the pilots in their suicide attacks. Official Kamikaze bombing raids began in October 1944 after traditional warfare was proving ineffective against Allied forces. However the use of inscribed flags as good-luck charms to bolster a soldier’s spirits is a time-honored tradition. Sometimes scarves or simple lengths of silk were printed with the rising sun motif and inscribed.
The Canton Historical Society, in suburban Boston, has an impressive collection including at least ten military uniforms dating to the WWII era. A pristine US Navy uniform bears a patch identifying it as belonging to a sailor on the USS Finback, which was commissioned in January, 1942, and just four months later patrolled the seas during the American victory in the Battle of Midway. The Finback sailed twelve Pacific patrols during WWII before being decommissioned in 1950. What makes this uniform most curious is the colorful machine embroidery and silk dragon patch. The bright stitching doesn’t appear to be a later addition because it is incorporated into the seams of the uniform. Likewise, the dragon patch is sewn beneath a label reading “Tailored Expressly for Esquire Uniform Co Norfolk, VA.” The owner of the uniform, as well as the nature of the decorative stitching, will be the subjects of future research.
Also in the collection of the Canton Historical Society is a Japanese “sniper vest” (figure 5). Made of coconut fiber and string, and bearing a label that reads “Examined in the Field Passed by Joint Intelligence,” the vest was brought home from the Pacific Islands by Canton’s General Neil. The vest has large arm openings that would have allowed a sniper to easily climb a tree and handle a gun while remaining camouflaged in the Pacific jungle. Its condition is fragile, however archival storage and safe handling will allow for continued research and occasional exhibition.
Also in the collection of the Canton Historical Society is a Japanese “sniper vest”. Made of coconut fiber and string, and bearing a label that reads “Examined in the Field Passed by Joint Intelligence,” the vest was brought home from the Pacific Islands by Canton’s General Neil. The vest has large arm openings that would have allowed a sniper to easily climb a tree and handle a gun while remaining camouflaged in the Pacific jungle. Its condition is fragile, however archival storage and safe handling will allow for continued research and occasional exhibition.
The European theatre of operations during World War II was a vast offensive that began with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and ended on V-E Day, May 8, 1945. In Italy, Army Air Force Technical Sergeant Rocco Boscaglia flew bombing raids with his fellow air men. He wore a standard-issue brown leather “bomber” jacket bearing his name, wings and the American flag. After the end of the war, Sergeant Boscaglia embellished the back of his jacket with an impressive emblem commemorating the dozens of raids he flew and survived. The tooled leather image depicts US planes in action flying past the names of ten European nations: Germany, Hungary, Albania, Jugoslavia (sic), France, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Greece and Italy. Both the patch and US flag on the sleeve retain trace evidence of paint, leaving us to image the jacket in its full color.
Sergeant Boscaglia’s jacket arrived at MTS with other minor condition issues. Covered in a mildew bloom, the leather had hardened and the knit cuffs were frayed. After fumigation, the jacket was meticulously cleaned by hand in small sections and the frayed cuffs were stabilized. With the mildew removed the jacket once again has the sheen of a well-worn leather replete with wrinkled sleeves and homemade patches that marked the time of one man’s service in war.
Our connection to World War II continues later this year with the preservation of a forty-eight star American Coast Guard flag that was flown over Guadalcanal. Made of wool bunting with cotton stars, the faded and wind-whipped flag bears witness to the seven months of fighting necessary for the Allies to take the small island from the Japanese. Conservation will stabilize the flag’s various components and provide a safe display mount so that the flag can be put on public display.
The Coast Guard Museum flag was completed in July, 2011.