When I was a boy at Douglas Elementary School in Salt Lake City, I remember stopping my play on the school grounds when I heard the bugle call that preceded the raising of the American flag before school. All the children on the school grounds faced the American flag, and with hand over heart, watched reverently as the flag was raised up high on the flag pole. This launched my respect for the flag.
Through the years, the school morning began by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as we faced the flag in our classroom. We studied the history of this great nation and were instructed to appreciate the blessings of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We were proud to be Americans!
On the day I graduated from the University of Utah in 1943, I received my orders to report for duty in the United States Marine Corps. World War II was raging, and I me an artillery officer with the 2nd Marine Division in the South Pacific Campaigns.
Our nation sacrificed and rallied to support all war efforts at home and abroad. My father was an active field officer in the U.S. Army. My brother fought for our freedom in the European Theater of combat, and my mother and siblings missed those of us who were far away from home, serving our country.
On July 15, 1944, I joined the combat troops on the island of Saipan, which was needed as a main staging location for attacks on Japan. U.S. Marines had just faced a horrific banzai attack, and thousands of bodies on both sides were stacked on the beach. We were assigned to bury the dead and clean out the caves, tunnels and pockets of resistance.
A whole city was under the ground level. The Japanese men were belligerent. We often used flame throwers, napalm fire bombs and explosives in the caves, which forced them out. As Marines, we were so regulated that we just did what we were told. Mostly, it was hand-to-hand combat, the worst fighting of my war experience.
Our objective was to raise the American flag on the Mt. Tapotchau on Saipan. During the fight, our men could see the flag and it boosted our morale.
The capture of Iwo Jima was vital to Allied success, and Japan knew it. The purpose of capturing the tiny island was to serve as a rescue, repair and refueling stop for allied aircraft. Iwo Jima was protected by Japan’s elite Imperial Palace Guard, the best military in Japan. The island was their front line in the Pacific.
During the invasion of Iwo Jima in February 1945, our 2nd Marine Division was launched to the waters off Iwo Jima as floating reserve. We were equipped with combat gear and landing crafts as secondary backup, if and when more manpower was needed.
On February 23, 1945, news was broadcast over loud speakers on all ships that our American flag had just been raised on Mt. Suribachi by five Marines and a Navy Corpsman. This was a moment of triumph! Ships blew their horns for hours afterward. The most famous combat photograph in history was taken that day, the flag raising atop Mt.Suribachi.
This was one of the turning points of World War II, a great military morale boost when the situation looked so bleak. We could have easily been defeated there, but an American flag flew on Iwo Jima! Many said prayers of thanksgiving on that day.
Then, there were thirty more days of fighting to secure the island. It was blood, sweat and fear. About 25,000 of my fellow Marines were killed or wounded. On March 16, 1945, U.S. Marines took over Iwo Jima, and allied supplies began pouring into the island. Gratefully, our unit was never called upon to go ashore.
After Iwo Jima, the next military objective was the island of Okinawa, just 330 miles southwest of mainland Japan. Prior to the invasion, the Allies assembled an enormous armada of ships from ports all over the Pacific Ocean. Everything was very secret. The armada concentrated off of Okinawa’s west coast and stood coiled to protect 182,000 Marines landing on the island.
Our ship’s mock landing on the back side of the island worked, which is the reason I am alive today. The Japanese thought they had made a mistake and started moving troops to that end of the island. Then, the Allies invaded, and two other Marine divisions carried the Battle of Okinawa. The fighting was fierce and extended.
In our transport, we witnessed many Kamikaze air and sea attacks, wave after wave over several days and nights. When we finally won the last battle, the American flag went up on Okinawa’s Shuri Front. In August 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies, but only after atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After V-J Day in September, I was directed to take a detail of Marines into the canyons in Nagasaki to evaluate the effects of the atomic bomb. Our findings were shocking! We saw people burned on one side, waiting to die. It was a horrible sight, a hard thing for me to stomach, to be honest. The bomb annihilated civilians who had done nothing against us, but it was enough to stop the war.
As a combat Marine, the American flag is a treasured symbol of hard won freedom, security and hope. Without a doubt, I love my country and respect the flag of the United States of America! Each morning as I post the flag by my front door, I honor it with a patriotic salute. Hopefully, our children and grandchildren enjoy and appreciate the freedoms we fought to preserve.
NOTE: Captain Paul Flandro, now 92 years of age, still posts the colors every morning, and because he talked about his military experiences, his children understand why. His story is featured in the book, One World, Many Stories – Seeking Freedom and Dignity.