Marine remembers his ‘flag day’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 17, 2000

The 56-year-old story makes David Brown’s leg hurt just thinking about it.

Saturday, June 17, 2000

The 56-year-old story makes David Brown’s leg hurt just thinking about it.

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June 1944. The now-retired Marine is on the South Pacific island of Saipan, a scout-sniper with I Company, 2nd Marine Division, 3rd Battalion, and a stone’s throw from angry Japanese soldiers.

Bullets slice through a little bamboo hut.

Brown pulls up a board to escape through the floor.

Scrambling yards away under enemy fire, he jumps into an abandoned fox hole.

"I just stayed still ’cause I knew the other Marines were moving up," he said. "When they got there, I just looked up and said, ‘Angels in Marine Corps dungarees.’"

When the soldier tried to stand, though, the pain from shrapnel wounds in his right leg sat him back down.

"They patched me up and I went back to my platoon headquarters."

It’s a grit and guts story, Brown might say.

Yet, it’s not the story that profoundly influenced the veteran’s life.

It’s not the tale that filled his mind this week – when Americans across the nation paused Wednesday to honor Old Glory on Flag Day.

It’s only part of it, Brown said.

The retelling begins in the harbor of a small South Pacific village where a Korean forced laborer cheered on American warships bombarding the Japanese.

"This fellow, so the story goes, was praising America and saying, ‘We will soon be free,’" Brown said, adding that the man had a daughter and son in college in the U.S.

The Japanese labeled him a sympathizer, arrested him and threw him in jail.

"So, three of us – me, a corporal and a sergeant – were sent out to find this fellow."

While searching behind enemy lines, the three fired upon a Japanese officer. The corporal and sergeant were shot. Brown made his way to the little bamboo hut.

Inside, the Marine searched for anything – intelligence papers, food, clothing – not realizing he had accomplished what the unit set out to do.

"I found this little bamboo trunk, and inside was this flag," Brown said.

"I knew it was his," he said. "You see, we had information about him."

The Korean worked in a business where he made little religious dolls and straw hats, and he had made the flag, too, Brown said.

Three- or four-feet long and perfectly made, the flag was hand sewn, probably from cotton, each star perfectly placed, the reds and blues just the right shade, he said.

"I felt more for him right then than anybody. I wondered what kind of man would take that chance ," Brown said. "To me, this guy was one patriotic person.

"You see he was taking a chance of being beheaded on the spot because that was their policy for keeping something like that.

"He’s the hero of the whole story in my book."

Brown took the flag back to headquarters, gave it to a G2 intelligence officer. They later found the Korean’s body under bomb debris.

Brown’s leg got worse but he found a sly way to stay in the middle of the action.

He suffered injuries from explosives, made beach landings, spent time in Hawaii hospitals, drank coffee with war correspondent Ernie Pyle – which he considers a high honor – and took to the jungle on countless sniper and recon patrols.

Sgt. Brown stayed in the Marines until 1950 then moved back to Lawrence County with his wife, Lenora June, to work in trucking and at the sheriff’s department.

He still thinks about his Marine Corps days, days when he was "all muscle and blood."

He recalls the Korean’s flag story most often.

In his bedroom, there’s even a picture of himself and the G2 officer with the flag.

"I have a lot of sympathy for that Korean," Brown said. "I wonder about his family and I take a look at myself."

The memories that come flooding back remind him of youth.

They remind him of every name in his platoon and all the South Pacific landscapes.

They remind hime of what it really means to hold a flag.