Like many other soldiers and sailors, he had permission to take a sword home as a memento.
The swords were part of the bushido samurai warrior code instilled in Japanese forces. The swords were believed to hold deep spiritual and symbolic meaning, said Bill Rannow, a Minneapolis dealer and collector of historic military items. “It’s basically a 3-foot-long straight razor,” he said, designed to slash through limbs. It was a standard sidearm for Japanese soldiers. Thousands ended up in the United States and it’s rare to find their owners, he added, and rare for Japanese to want them back.
At first, the swords were destroyed, but the Japanese requested that they be saved. Amdahl’s sword, he said, was among hundreds amassed in a warehouse near Nagasaki.
“I have no idea how many swords were in there, it was just one huge pile,” Amdahl said. “It was over 8 feet piled up. … And I saw this leather-covered sword way up in the pile.”
What drew his attention was the scabbard, wood bound in heavy leather. “I figured that would be a cavalryman’s sword, and I’m interested in horses. So I crawled up there. I picked it out.
“Mine happened to be a beauty,” he added. “I got a work of art.”
But as the years sped by, Amdahl became more interested in returning the sword, even as he took meticulous care of it.
Two wooden tags with Japanese script were attached to it, which Rannow said were “surrender tags” attached in hopes that the weapons would be one day returned.
After a few tries, Amdahl had given up hope of finding its owner.
Until Stelson arrived. She was researching a book on Nagasaki for young adults, and her quest for firsthand information took her to Lanesboro. In the course of conversation, Amdahl mentioned the sword, then brought it out of the closet.
“He said: ‘I want to give this back in peace, with honor,’ ” she said.
Stelson started some detective work. “I didn’t have much hope,” she said. But within 24 hours, through a friend in Nagasaki, she had found the family.
The tags bear the name Tadasaku Matomura, who died eight years after the war. His son, Tadakazu Matomura, was the one who used the sword in battle, and he died in 1986. Tadahiro Matomura, who will be in St. Paul on Saturday, is his son.
A letter from Tadahiro Matomura to Amdahl, translated from Japanese, expresses his deep gratitude, although it says he knows little of his father’s war experiences.
“I never expected to hear about the sword 67 years after the war,” the letter says. “Moreover, never did I dream that it had been taken care of wonderfully in America. Thank you very much for having taken care of it for a long time.”
Stelson marvels at all the pieces that fell into place to make the reunion a reality.
“It’s not really about the sword. It’s about peace and friendship between our two cities and between our two countries,” said Stelson, who is hoping to finish her book in time for the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. “We absolutely realize the symbolism in this exchange.”