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Flag He Helped Make As Japanese POW Found Here at QM Museum


JUL. 6, 1967 — About one month after the news of the Japanese verbal surrender, barefooted soldiers dressed in shirts and shorts marched to freedom under what might be a called a "homemade" American flag, made by a handful of American soldiers in a prisoner-of-war camp on the island of Mukaishima, Japan, only 30 miles from the A-bomb blast at Hiroshima. Charles C. Branum (then a corporal) and two others raised their American flag in place of the Japanese “Rising Sun” at 11 a.m. on Aug. 18, 1945.

Recently, Mr. Branum of Cape Girardeau, Mo., one of the men to make this march, visited the Ft. Lee Quartermaster Museum where the flag is displayed. Mr. Branum’s visit climaxed a desire to once again view the first American flag flown over Japan at the cessation of hostilities in World War II.

According to Mr. Branum, in April 9, 1942, soon after the Japanese capture of Bataan, he was among those taken prisoner by the enemy forces. After spending months in various prison camps in the Philippines, Mr. Branum was herded into the hold of a ship along with 99 other American prisoners and taken to the prison camp on the island of Mukaishima because U.S. forces threatened the Philippines at that time. His sea travel ended at the Mukaishima Island Prison Camp on Sept. 4, 1944.

“I remember that day,” Mr. Branum said, “because it was my birthday.”

When nearly a year later, news from the International Red Cross officials came that the fighting had ended, the Japanese guards relinquished their role as captors and the freed Americans took over the prison. They clearly marked out their area with large letters — P.O.W. — so that it could be seen from the sky; and American pilots seeing the letters began dropping food and medical supplies. They used colored parachutes to drop the supplies.

Realizing they had no American flag, the ranking American officer, Major Ralph T. Artman, suggested making one from the red, white and blue parachute silks used in dropping the supplies. The flag was cut from the silk, using parts of sewing kits and tin cans.

Charles Branum and Family with U.S. “Freedom” Flag

Since the prisoners had no means of sewing the stars and stripes, Major Artman “commandeered” three local Japanese tailor shops to do the sewing. They worked constantly, although reluctantly, through one entire night to have the flag ready.

On the morning of August 18, at 11 a.m., the surviving prisoners fell out for a formal flag-raising ceremony. “To the Colors” was played on a bugle confiscated from the Japanese forces guarding the prisoners, and Corporal Branum along with Sergeant Clifford M. Omtvedt, and Sergeant Bussell raised the flag.

In the month that followed, before the march to the port of Onomichi, the flag was raised in the prison camp with a formal ceremony each morning. And, on the day of the march to freedom, it was taken down and carried before the column of liberated prisoners.

From the time of the freedom march to Onomichi, until Feb. 8, 1952, the flag and bugle were in the possession of Clifford M. Omtvedt and were eventually taken to his home in Eau Claire, Wis. In 1952, they were given to Colonel Ralph T. Artman, the former Major in charge of the prisoners, to present to the chief of Military History in Washington. Mr. Omtvedt donated the flag and bugle to be displayed “where others can see them.”

The flag was donated to the Ft. Lee Quartermaster Museum in June, 1963, for the museum’s opening, and it was here, after intensive research and with the aid of Congressman Paul C. Jones, of the Missouri 10th District, that Mr. Branum and his family found the flag again.




AXPOW TAPS: BRANUM, CHARLES ‘Sonny’ died in Cape Girardeau, MO on Jan. 14, 2001. He was 80 years old. Attached to the 71st Inf., 5th Interceptor Combat Unit in the Philippines, he was captured on Bataan and held until liberation at Camp O’Donnell, Bilibid and Mukaishima, where he witnessed the atomic explosion at Hiroshima. A life member of AXPOW, he is survived by his wife Mary Etta, 1 son, and 4 sisters.