#039;Price of Freedom is NOT Free#039;

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Thanks to a gift from a fellow veteran a few years ago, John Dunlap wears a hat that reads "The Price of Freedom is NOT Free."

In November 1943, Dunlap learned that all too well. After being drafted into the military, he had to give up his job and life in his native Branchdale, Pa., to serve his country in World War II.

After an unsuccessful attempt to join the Merchant Marines, the then-29-year-old Dunlap joined the Army, and was sent to boot camp in Louisiana.

Email newsletter signup

"That's where they break you into the Army and teach you what to do," he said.

Dunlap later completed engineering training in Illinois, and was later shipped off to New Guinea to work in what was called the "Asiatic Pacific," front with the Army Engineers.

"It was a strange place," Dunlap said. "The natives were barely dressed with women just wearing grass skirts. It was a different world altogether."

In New Guinea, and later in the Philippines and other surrounding areas, Dunlap and his comrades constructed new bridges and roads to replace ones demolished by the Japanese military. The work was far more hazardous than the average construction job, with the Army Engineers constantly under Japanese sniper fire in the process.

While Dunlap made several friends in the South Pacific, many of his American friends were lost - too many to name.

"They were scattered from California to New York," he said.

Feb. 22, 1946 was a blessed day for Dunlap - the day he was discharged. His arrival on American soil is a day he will never forget.

"I laid down and kissed the ground. I said, 'My God, I'm glad to see you,'" he said, laughing.

In the years that followed his military service, Dunlap worked in the coal mines for a short period of time before coming to Ironton on Feb. 22, 1948, two years to the date of his discharge. He worked as a manager and bartender for a bar known as Mabel and Ray's on South Third Street for 21 years, then worked for 18 years for the United States Postal Service until his retirement in 1976.

"That was the end of the road," he said.

Now, the 89-year-old widower and father of two daughters and grandfather of four is believed to be the oldest active member of the VFW Post 8850 in Ironton, spending his days in the T.V. Room. One grandson, John Fliehman spent 10 years in the military, and another, Jeremy Fliehman, is now serving in Dayton.

While watching the recent war coverage on television, which he has done often, he notices that many military personnel are doing the same job as he has done, with the personnel being fired upon as he was. Dunlap said he is fortunate to be at home now and would not be involved in another war again.

"No, hell no," he said. "I wouldn't take a million dollars to do it again."