Flag Given in Gratitude by Starving Family Returns Home

By: Martin Kinnunen

J flag

Dennis Downey tells the story in a quiet, reverent tone.

More than 70 years ago, shortly after World War II, Downey’s father, an American soldier, shared his food rations with a starving Japanese family. In appreciation, the family presented his dad with several gifts, including a Japanese flag.

Last week, at UPMC Shadyside’s Cherry Blossom Festival, the story came full circle.

Downey, a mechanic who maintains UPMC Shadyside’s generators and other equipment, presented the flag to Dr. Kazuo Kodera, guest of honor at the festival, who agreed to fulfill Downey’s wish and take the flag back to its land of origin.

A man who saw things a little differently

Downey’s father, the late Raymond Downey, was a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Pacific. At the end of the war, he was assigned to the U.S. military forces that occupied Japan.

Japanese families were required to house American troops at that time. Food was scarce, and Japanese families had little to eat.

“Once the war was over, the people of Japan were no longer his enemy,” Downey said. To prevent starvation, his father shared his rations with the family that was required to house him.

“That was him,” Downey added. “Dad was the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.”

musicThankfulness for hospital’s special treasures

Downey presented the flag to Dr. Kodera, retired director of the English Society Institute of Tokyo, to show appreciation for several gifts that the hospital has received through its friendship with the people of Japan.

That friendship was established more than 25 years ago when Japanese nurses visited UPMC Shadyside to learn best care practices. The relationship prospered, and an exchange program was established. In return, Dr. Kodera donated the Japanese cherry trees that adorn the UPMC Shadyside campus, as well as stone lanterns and other items in the Japanese garden in front of Posner Tower.

Downey often visits the garden on his break.

“It’s a spot for peace and tranquility right here in the middle of this busy campus,” he said. “I appreciate the relationship between our hospital and Japan, and it was time for the flag to make the trip home.”

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