We stood on the steps of the old post office in Machias, Maine: me, the executive director of the county Community Action Agency, headquartered in that building, and he, a board member and WWII veteran. I knew that Oscar was a survivor of the Bataan Death March but no details, he never talked about that part of his life. I had just repaired and painted the old government flagpole and hung a halyard with a publicity plan to put up a flag, the first flag in many years over Main Street.
I thought that Oscar, as a respected local veteran and lobster fisherman, might be interested in raising the flag as part of the ceremony, so I asked.
It was a grey gloomy day and we were just looking off into the distance over town. He was very quiet for a few moments, got a far-off look in his eye then slowly and very softly responded: “No, I just couldn’t do it.” You see, Peter, after that damned “March” I was shipped to Northern Burma to a camp in the remote jungle. Our guys were dying like flies and by the end, we had lost thousands to disease, malnutrition, torture and execution. One day at the end of the war, the camp guards just left and we were still dying. Because we were in such a remote place, rescue didn’t get to us right away so they sent C-47s that dropped food and medical supplies. It was too late for some, but they died free. Some of the guys gathered pieces of parachute and some other rags to fashion a crude American flag that we raised over that camp. I will never forget those 5,000, sick, weak and some dying guys trying to stand at attention, holding each other up just to salute that flag going up over their Hell. “No, I couldn’t do your flag.”
1LT Peter Duston, U.S. Army-retired