First To Fly Over Japan; Historic
U.S. Flag Going to Museum
MAR. 29, 1952 — FORT KNOX, Ky. — Seven years ago a Fort Knox
colonel stood in a Japanese prisoner of war camp and watched
misty-eyed as the rising sun emblem was struck from the
flagstaff and Old Glory went up in its place.
It was a crudely-sewn flag pieced together from parachute
cloth, its stars cut out jaggedly by sewing-kit tools and
tin cans. But to the jubilant internees who had labored to
make it in the first few hours after word came of Japan’s
surrender, craftsmanship was unimportant.
Last week Col. Ralph T. Artman, chief of the urology section
of Fort Knox Hospital, once again held in his hands that
fragment of history he helped fashion and which he hadn’t
seen since the day he left the camp for home.
The flag is now acknowledged history — the first to fly over
Japan after that country’s surrender. As such, it will soon
be on its way to the Pentagon museum collection, an Army
museum or perhaps the Smithsonian Institution. Washington
hasn’t decided yet.
Over the years Colonel Artman often wondered what had become
of the hastily-made flag. His questions were answered four
months ago in an unexpected letter from one of his fellow
An Eau Claire, Wis., police officer wrote the colonel that
he had the flag. He was one of the three men picked to raise
it that eventful morning and as color bearer for the camp,
he had carried it at the head of the column as the liberated
men marched out forever. It had been in the intervening
years “one of my proudest treasures,” said ex-Sgt. Clifford
But he wanted to share it with his countrymen. He wanted
Col. Artman, who had been the only American officer in the
camp (he was a major then), to come to Eau Claire to accept
the flag for the Army, then turn it over to the proper
Omtvedt’s wishes were carried out last month at a midwinter
conference of the Wisconsin Disabled American Veterans in
Eau Claire. Col. Artman was designated by the Army Secretary
to represent him and to accept the flag on behalf of the
Department of the Army.
Now the flag is resting briefly at the Fort Knox home of
Col. Artman. He will deliver it soon to Washington
Looking at it, he remembers the tiny camp on Mukaishima
Island — only 30 miles from the A-bomb blast at Hiroshima —
getting word from International Red Cross officials that the
fighting had ended, the Jap guards relinquishing their role
as captors, the freed Americans taking over the prison.
He remembers how the men eagerly marked out their area with
large letters — POW — so that it could be seen from the sky.
American planes began dropping food and medical supplies ...
red, white and blue parachutes floated down on Mukaishima.
In those first frantic moments of freedom, the ex-prisoners
realized they had no American Flag. Col. Artman suggested
making one from the parachutes.
This is the way he recalls it in a letter to Omtvedt:
“There was no means of sewing together the stars and stripes
even after the patterns were cut. Since the Americans were
in command of the situation at that time, I ‘commandeered’
the three local Japanese tailor shops to do the sewing after
Americans cut out the parts according to rough
“We had the three tailor shops working constantly (and
reluctantly) throughout all of one night in order to have
the flag ready as soon as possible. At approximately 11 a.m.
on the morning of Aug. 18, 1945, we lowered the Japanese
flag which had been flying over the camp and its place
raised our American flag.
“As the American flag was raised, we had a brief ceremony
for the remaining time we were there, our improvised
American flag flew over the camp. I do believe it is the
first American flag raised on Japanese soil after the
cessation of hostilities.”
PFC Charles Whaley for the Army Times
continued with article from the
Armored Center Public Information Office
at Fort Knox
OMTVEDT REMEMBERS that “To the Colors” was blown on a bugle
confiscated from Japanese forces guarding the prisoners,
that tears streamed down the cheeks of every prisoner, that
some of them were so weak from starvation they were barely
able to stand at attention.
This bugle was also returned to Col. Artman and is to be
placed along with the flag in a museum.
Out of the 100 Americans who had come to the camp as
prisoners exactly a year before, 99 still lived. There were
also 78 British at the prison. Omtvedt, who had survived the
Bataan Death March, and Colonel Artman were transferred
there from a camp in the Philippines.
That trip was one of the worst experiences they had in their
years of imprisonment. Colonel Artman recalls:
“We were herded into the hold of a ship, 1,137 of us. For 13
days and nights we had nothing in the way of medicines or
drugs to keep down disease. When we disembarked we all had
dysentery, malaria and vitamin deficiencies. We all gained
some strength at the new camp, and Red Cross packets
containing clothing, food and medical supplies arrived from
time to time.”
The colonel’s oldest son, now 11, was the last American
child born on Corregidor before the outbreak of hostilities.
He was six weeks old when all American families were
evacuated to the States. When the colonel saw him again,
after liberation, the boy was 4-1/2 years old.
On Sept. 13, 1945, Colonel Artman, Sergeant Omtvedt and the
other freed men left Mukaishima, led by their handmade flag,
crossed the narrow channel to Onomichi, boarded a train for
Yokohama — and thus began their long trip home.