Joseph O Quintero and The Secret American Flag

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Corregidor, Bataan, names which conjure thoughts of forced marches and thousands of deaths. Joseph O Quintero was among the many thousands of Japanese prisoners of war from Corregidor. Quintero originally enlisted only to get the $21 a month and three ‘square meals’ to eat. It was during the Depression, a time when large families had few resources. The son of Mexican immigrants, he was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1918. Though actually too short for the Army, his friends badgered the recruiter and he was allowed to enlist. He became a hero. While in a Japanese POW camp, he used scraps of material to sew an American flag that will be transferred to the possession of the Smithsonian. (Stripes)

Story continues below:

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During WWII in the Philippines, then Cpl Joseph Quintero (also known as Don Jose) served with the 60th Coastal Artillery Regiment in Corregidor. Quintero manned a machine gun in defense of his unit, and they held the Japanese off for months. The men were finally overrun in the spring of 1942 and captured. The treatment of POWs by the Japanese was brutal, and thousands did not survive. He did.

Throughout Joseph’s wartime experiences, his attention to his fellow soldiers’ needs and sufferings led them to warmly reciprocate. He utilized the basic medic skills he’d learned in Fort Worth during the Japanese siege of Corregidor. Afterwards, from prison camp to prison camp: Bilibid and Cabanatuan in the Philippines, then at the infamous Niigata Labor Camp in Japan, where he remained until the end of the war.

Along the way, Joseph underwent an appendectomy in the cramped hold of the POW transport, Taga Maru, in semi-darkness with Major Keggie operating with a razor. The surgeon attempted the impossible because of his high regard for Joseph. Perhaps the Almighty, hearing Joseph’s repeated prayer, “I believe in God. I believe I will live,” and knowing his passion for helping other, assisted.

From the book summary of “Don Jose” the Story of Joseph Quintero

When the Niigata Labor Camp was liberated, Cpl Quintero greeted the Americans with a flag that was sewn out of scraps of material. A Canadian soldier who possessed a sewing machine and had been forced to repair Japanese uniforms helped create the flag. Its pieces of red blanket, white sheets, and blue denim had been wrapped in canvas and buried in the ground to prevent the Japanese from discovering it. It was risky business that took him over a year to complete. But at the time, Quintero did not even know the significance of the 13 stripes on the flag, and had to ask an officer.

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Photo from Find a Grave

After the war, Joseph kept the flag in a closet in his home for 25 years. He passed away in 2000 at the age of 82. Before he died, he gave the flag to Army Lt. Gen. Edward Baca, who took it to every state to tell the story of the flag for 30 years. Lt Gen Baca passed away in 2020. His son Col Brian Baca took up the story and last Wednesday told it to members of the New Mexico National Guard Strategic Planning Conference in Albuquerque. The flag is scheduled to be given to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington in September.

One of the first places my father gave his speech about the flag was at the Smithsonian. He said then he would give the flag to the Smithsonian, and my father’s word was his bond.

Col Brian Baca, son of Lt Gen Edward Baca

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Featured screenshot of photo by Robert E. Rosales of the Albuquerque Journal – the picture is from a family photo of Joseph Quintero with his flag.

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