Current News from: “Stars and Stripes”

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — The flag is in surprisingly good shape for its age.

Made at least 100 years ago, the red, white and blue have only slightly faded. The 48 stars remain neatly in place. The edges are slightly frayed, and a few small moth holes dot the banner.  But there is no more important family treasure for Patty Kelly Stevens and her relatives.  This American flag has been a reward, a sign of hope and a reminder of love and loss.

Now, for the first time in a century, the flag has left the family. On Friday, Stevens – now 93 years old – and dozens of family members made the trek from Oklahoma to North Carolina to donate the flag to the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville.

The flag – once presented to the family by Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood – has survived fire, war and time itself. And now, it will be forever preserved.  “It’s not just a U.S. flag…,” said Jim Bartlinski, director of the museum. “The story behind it is incredible.  We have an obligation to care for that flag until the end of time.”

During World War II, Stevens’ mother, Selma Croft, hid the flag under threat of death as the family was held prisoner for three years in the Philippines.

Airborne & Special Forces Museum

The flag – which briefly flew over the Los Baños Internment Camp – became a symbol of hope for the prisoners there in the weeks before a daring raid to rescue them.  And in the decades since, it has honored the caskets of several family members – including veterans and survivors of Los Baños.

“The flag means so much to me,” Stevens said. “To all of us… to my family.”

The flag’s story begins long before the war.

Alfred J. Croft, Stevens’ father, was a self-taught pilot who served in World War I and had come to the Philippines in 1918 to help train Filipino flyers. There, he met Selma, who came to the islands as a nurse in 1919.  The two married and lived in China and then Hawaii – where Stevens was born – before returning to Manila.

At a carnival in the early 1920s, Alfred Croft rescued the flag from a fire that had engulfed the event. Wood, then governor-general of the Philippines, was so impressed that he awarded the flag to Croft.

They lived an easy life in the Philippines, Stevens said.  But that changed on Dec. 8, 1941, a day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Selma Croft was awakened at 5:30 a.m. that day with news of the attack. Her husband was working in Hawaii at the time.

Stevens and her younger brother, William, were sent home from school early. And on that same day, the Japanese began bombing the island.   “We were not prepared for war,” Stevens recalled. The troops in the Philippines had World War I-era equipment. And they took heavy casualties as Japanese forces overran the islands.

On Jan. 6, 1942, the war reached the family’s doorstep. Stevens was 17, months from graduating high school and moving to California.

But Japanese soldiers ordered her to put her life on hold. They demanded that the family pack enough food and clothing for three days.

“The three days lasted three years and two months,” Stevens said.

Unbeknownst to Stevens, her mother packed the family’s American flag with her things. For three years, Selma Croft would keep the flag hidden – probably by hiding it in a mattress, Stevens reckons.

Stevens, speaking to a group of family and veterans at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum, related how her family was held first at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. There were 6,000 prisoners on the campus.

As Santo Tomas grew more crowded, the Japanese sent prisoners to build another camp on the island of Luzon – a camp that would become known as the Los Baños Internment Camp.

Stevens’ story

Stevens said her brother – then 14 years old – was sent to help build the camp. He would never be the same, she said.

Meanwhile, Stevens and her mother stayed at Santo Tomas. As the war waged on, conditions became worse.  “They had a saying,” Stevens said. “‘When victorious, we can be generous.'”

As food rations shrank and abuse rose, Stevens said prisoners realized that American troops must be getting close.  After nearly three years in prison, Stevens said she and her mother were taken to Los Baños.

“We thought it was going to be better,” she said. “It wasn’t.”  At Los Baños, the prisoners were surrounded by jungle.  “We could look across the fence and see bananas on the trees,” Stevens said. “But we couldn’t get there.”

On Jan. 7, 1945, the prisoners received an unexpected surprise. As the inhabitants of the camp awoke, they realized that their captors had unexpectedly left them unattended.  The soldiers had been called away to a battle in Manila, Stevens said. Prisoners ran about the camp shouting “We’re free! We’re free!”

Amid the celebration, Selma Croft took her flag out of hiding and offered it to be raised over the prison camp.

“I had no idea she had it,” Stevens said. “We sang the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and ‘God Save the Queen.’ ”
Some of the stronger men left the camp to get food from a nearby village. Others broke into the Japanese food stores.

But even with no guards, most of the 2,000 prisoners – both civilians and troops – were unable to leave.  “We were afraid. We had no place to go,” Stevens said. “We couldn’t get away.”

When Japanese guards returned a week later, they repeatedly asked about the flag.  For three days, the guards searched prisoners’ barracks trying to find it.

Stevens recalled eating pigweed and brush. “Anything just to stay alive,” she said.  Prisoners could see Allied planes overhead, but they worried that any rescue would come too late.

“They had already dug the ditches for the bodies,” Stevens said.

On the early morning of Feb. 23, 1945, help fell from the sky – angels in parachutes.

As Filipino guerillas attacked from the ground, U.S. troops with the 11th Airborne Division came from the sky.

“It was the happiest day of my life,” Stevens said. “To see those paratroopers come.”

With bullets flying, the family hid under their beds. But the Allied forces quickly overran the Japanese guards.

Stevens said her freedom came with the sound of footsteps as one of the soldiers entered the barracks.

“Are you a Marine?,” she asked.

“Hell no. I’m not a Marine. I’m a paratrooper,” the man responded.

Iron Mike

Stevens said she can never repay the paratroopers who rescued her and others. That’s why it’s perfect to pass the flag to the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the airborne,” she said.

The donation – officially made on the 73rd anniversary of the Los Baños Raid – will be displayed through the weekend in the museum lobby, Bartlinski said.

Then officials will begin the needed steps to conserve the flag before putting it back on display in time for Flag Day in June. It will remain on display through July 4 and will eventually have a permanent home in the museum’s main exhibit hall.

Paul Kelly, Stevens’ son, said his family was willing to risk their lives to keep the flag. And he’s now encouraged that the museum will ensure it lasts forever.

“It’s not perfect,” he said of the 100-year-old flag. “But hell, what is?”

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Richard Adams – Connersville, IN; US Army, Vietnam, 101st Airborne Division

Derald Bickford – Lincoln, NE; US Army, 82nd Airborne Division (Ret.)

Herbert Chancey Jr. – Chattanooga, TN; US Army, Vietnam, A Co/22 Regimen, Ranger

Leslie Colgrove – Fort Sumner, NM; US Army, 173rd Airborne Division, Lt. Col. (Ret. 22 y.)

Lewis Gilbert – Hackney, London, ENG; Royal Air Force, WWII, film unit

“Duke” Hipp – Nyssa, OR; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division, Purple Heart

Lawrence Lodewick – Alexandria, VA; US Army, West Point grad, 82nd Airborne Division, Bronze Star, Col. (Ret. 22 y.)

Leroy Murray – Springfield, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CMSgt. (Ret.)

Eugene Roy – Dorens, KY; US Army, 11th Airborne Division

Howard Weger – Strawberry Point, IA; US Army Air Corps, WWII

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on March 1, 2018, in Current News, First-hand Accounts, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 156 Comments.

  1. Thanks for being such a good blog friend. It has been a long week of sharing the events of Passion Week: I haven’t been able to thank all of the people that follow my blog, and show likes on my posts. Please keep up your good work, and may God richly bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for following my blog; you are very kind. Please keep up your good work.

    Like

  3. That special flag, and the people, have quite a story. Thank you, GP!

    Like

  4. What a courageous woman. It’s amazing the strength all of those people in the internment centers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure you’ve heard me say it before… but that generation went through so much between surviving the Great Depression and going slap into a world war – they deserve the right to be called the Greatest – they earned it!!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. That’s such an amazing story! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This made me cry! Thank you!
    Hope you are well!
    💜

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Absolutely fantastic story gp, has to be one of the best first hand accounts you have posted.
    That Flag represents so much to Time and People.
    Great post mate.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a fantastic post, GP! It reminded me of the story of the camp-made POW flag that was waved at Omori. I wrote about that flag and what became of it – it is a similar story. I hope that you don’t mine my link.

    https://veteranscollection.org/2013/06/14/following-the-flag/

    Liked by 1 person

    • I not only do NOT mind the link, I took down the address for it. If I have your permission, I will re-blog your article when I reach 15 August 1945.

      Like

      • Feel free to re-blog! My uncle was a “Bataan Bastard” and spent the entirety of the war as a guest of the empire. I wish that I had known more about this when I was younger and that he wasn’t quiet about his time there (I found out about his POW experience at his post-funeral family gathering).

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I can’t imagine what their lives must have been like!
    I don’t think that we of the cold war and post cold war era realize the enormity of what others went through, both to survive and to have freedom.
    We are so blessed to live in America, even with all her foibles.
    Again, I thank you, not only for this storyy but all the stories that show how dearly freedom is held.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. WOW, just WOW, in so many ways!
    We spent almost 25 years at Ft Bragg (and Bill’s been retired nearly that long, too-time flies!).
    Bill was a paratrooper the whole time (our son was one for 4 years). He was part of the JAG Corps and was transferred (his last two years) to Ft Meade, but was attached to the Pentagon.
    We’ve not been back, much to our dismay, so we haven’t seen the new museum yet. I vividly remember Iron Mike, though.
    Today has been a surreal day. I stumbled across a blog post about my husband’s hometown, read several others that took me down memory lane (some pleasant, some not!) and then came to your blog! Thank you for the memories!
    Even though my husband was a paratrooper, so that I’m a little partial to them, I still feel they are some of the greatest of the great, just as your story above illustrates!
    Thanks again!
    Blessings~

    Liked by 1 person

    • AIRBORNE ALL THE WAY, Robbye! You be partial all you want!! Thank you for sharing your family life with us!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks! Being a military wife is sometimes hard, but it especially was some years ago. You were the “ambassadors” of the military as it were. We were expected to do a lot of things to enhance and further not only our husbands but also the community and the Army. (I learned to do a right snappy salute! But. my greatest, most hated achievements were sewing badges on and ironing the uniforms! (I ironed uniforms, but not military-he was out by then- for my dad and said I’d never iron another. Ha, ha, famous last words!!)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Good home front story, Robbye! I was the service brat, but my aunt was wife to a career USMC Gunnery Sgt. and she worked for the Marines. But she rather got “into” that scene.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks!
            I was almost a service brat. However, at the time you weren’t allowed to have more than 2 children. My sister was less than a week old when they came out to have dad sign the paperwork. Being a proud dad, he announced it almost as soon as the guys got there. They told him if he had waited until he had signed it would have been too late but since he didn’t, he couldn’t join. He always figured if there had just been one person he would have probably been fine, but with two there were too many witnesses!
            I admire the children, too. It’s not an easy life for them, either!
            Marines train some tough men, and the wives are just as tough or tougher. You have/had to be for the kind of life you support and are supported by!

            Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you very much for sharing this article!

    Like

  12. Thank you very much.

    Like

  1. Pingback: Stars and Stripes (“Pacific Paratrooper” blog repost) | Susan Marie Molloy

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