On February 23, 1945, elements of the 11th Airborne Division and about 75 Filipino Guerilla fighters mounted a rescue to liberate 2,146 civilian prisoners from the Japanese prison camp called Los Banos. For a brief period of time, an American flag flew over the camp, a flag precious to a family that suffered much and risked their lives to protect it. They hid the flag both before and after it flew. The owners of the flag donated it to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum on Friday, the 73rd anniversary of the rescue.
Los Banos was on the island of Luzon, Philippines, about 40 miles south of Manila. The prisoners were mostly Americans – men, women, and children. The Japanese had been systematically starving them to death, with even one of their commanders promising the they would eat dirt. They had even begun to dig trenches that the prisoners feared were mass graves. You can read more about the raid at this link.
According to an article by Drew Brooks in the Fayette Observer, Patty Kelly Stevens was just 17 years old when the Japanese invaded their calm and peaceful life in the Philippines in December 8, 1941. They were told to pack enough food and clothing for 3 days. That ‘3 days’ turned into 3 years, 2 months.
For a while, Patty and her family were incarcerated at Santo Tomas University in Manila. But as conditions grew worse and the number of prisoners grew, they were moved to what became known as Los Banos Internment Camp. Now they were surrounded by jungle. They could see bananas on the trees, but could not go get them because of the Japanese guards. They were slowly being starved to death.
The American Flag
On January 7, 1945, they awakened to find that the Japanese guards had left them unattended. As the prisoners shouted “I’m free! I’m free!’ Patty’s mother carefully removed the flag from its hiding place and raised it over the camp. It became a symbol of hope for the prisoners, as they sang the Star Spangled Banner and God Save the Queen.
Some of the men went to get food for the starving prisoners and raided the Japanese food caches. For that brief period of time, they “lived like kings.” The prisoners took the flag down before the guards returned.
The guards returned a week later and tore the barracks up looking for the flag. They did not find it. Patty’s mother hid it well.
On February 23, 1945, the paratroopers came and rescued the starving prisoners.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the airborne.” Patty Kelly Stevens, who is now 93. You can read the full story of her survival and the flag here.
It was an American flag that brought hope to those prisoners in WWII. In the midst of intense hatred and hardship, that flag sparked freedom inside the men, women, and children who could barely function. The paratroopers who rescued them were worthy of respect and honor, which is the reason that Patty Kelly Stevens donated the flag.
Today the NFL kneelers need to take heed that there are those among us who value the American flag. To us, it is still a symbol of hope.
Featured photo- the 11th Airborne Division prepares for resuce of the Los Banos Internment Camp