A story of tearful memories of seeing the United States flag honored by liberated Philippinos during World War II and proper etiquette for displaying the flag were highlights of a flag retirement ceremony held Tuesday on Flag Day at the local AmVets Park.
Harry Shoop, a 94-year-old Allensburg resident who served in the Pacific arena with the U.S. Army during World War II, said he was on an island in Luzon where the men he was with had been given a break from heavy fighting. But just as they were preparing to relax and wash clothes they’d been wearing for about a month, they were informed that a small hidden village of 130 or so people on the island was still being held hostage and Shoop and others were sent to liberate it.
On their way to the village the American soldiers ran into some Philippino guerillas who told them there were only four Japanese soldiers left guarding the village, and Shoop said those guards were dispatched of quickly.
“When that happened them people came out of the bushes and out of the village crying, screaming and wanting to kiss you,” Shoop said.
After that, Shoop said, the islanders prepared a huge feast for the Americans just as the soldiers were ready to leave, the village mayor wanted the U.S. soldiers to see the village school, begging them to the point that he was almost crying.
Shoop said there 38 ladies and little kids in the small building. The lone teacher had the soldiers line up against a wall, said something to the children, then when they turned around there was the American flag hanging perfectly on a wall.
“They looked toward the flag and did the Pledge of Allegiance, every word in English, and every word was right,” Shoop said. “Then they looked back at us and I noticed tears running down my eyes… I wanted to say something, but it was one of those times when if you speak, you know you’re going to choke up.”
Finally, Shoop said, he managed to shout out a Philippino word that means victory, then the school children shouted it back to him. Then the shouts were repeated.
Shoop, who will be 95 in August, said he had learned how to do all the dirty things in war, but on that day he did something nice.
“This little incident has stayed with me over the years – it’s a picture embedded in my brain – how honest, sincere and dedicated those people were. I still think about it every now and then. Sometimes I wake up thinking about it,” Shoop said. “We did the right thing and at a right time, and how the American flag was right there in the middle of it all, perfectly straight, it’s one of the more decent things I’ve done in my life.”
The flag retirement ceremony also included a reading by John Walker, adjutant for the Highland County Veterans Honor Guard, of a letter by Dick Conrad, commander of the American Legion in Tontogany.
Walker read: “During the past year I have seen on numerous occasions the American flag lowered to half-staff to honor a local citizen or local official or veteran. This totally usurps the flag code of the United States and is a direct affront to military veterans.
“Therefore, it is wrong for any business, local government, or veterans organization to fly the flag at half-staff without an order from the president of the United States or the governor of this state. By doing so, you are being disrespectful to the flag and are being disrespectful toward the person you wish to honor.”
Gerold Wilkin, an honor guard trustee and emcee of Tuesday’s ceremonies that included poems, songs and the proper disposal of a flag, had information that said: “The federal flag code says the the universal custom is to display the U.S. flag from sunrise to sunset on buildings and stationary flagstaffs in the open, but when a patriotic effect is desired the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness. Also, the flag should not be displayed when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag is displayed.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.