Photo courtesy of Woodrow Wilson High School via Facebook.

A Woodrow Wilson High School graduate of the class of 1938 took an American flag with him to a Japanese prison camp.

In remembrance of Flag Day, which was June 14, here’s the story of Otto Erler, a Marine corporal who was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart and fought in World War II.

During a battle in the Philippines, the 20-year-old was knocked unconscious by a mortar shell. When he woke up, he was surrounded by Japanese soldiers.

On the way to a prisoner of war camp, Erler briefly escaped to search for toilet paper. He came up empty but found an American flag, took it and hid it.

When the Japanese discovered Erler had the flag, he and an officer were able to convince them to allow the flag to be used in burial services. The Japanese agreed but in return allocated fewer rations for 30 days, prohibited cigarettes and set curfew at 9 p.m. The flag was given back to Erler when he was transferred to a lead mine, but he could only use it in burials — ten of them over the course of 16 months.

Erler’s flag is now on display at the Dallas Historical Society.

President Woodrow Wilson issued the proclamation in 1916 that established Flag Day.


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