The flag of another country . . .
It was 11 a.m. on a day in September last year when an old, yellowed, grease-stained flag began to flutter again in someone’s heart.
The flag made its way to John J. Schaller, 91, a former U.S. Army platoon sergeant who was wounded and hospitalized on the island of Leyte in the Philippines during World War II.
It wasn’t an American flag; it was a white Japanese flag emblazoned with a weathered red sun, bearing the names and signatures of 189 American soldiers who fought, were wounded and hospitalized in Leyte.
Schaller’s name, signed in ink and accompanied by his address, was on it.
The beaten banner was discovered by Debbie Anthony of Bradford, Pa., who resurrected it from an auto shop rag bin 13 years ago; found a home for it on an Army surplus store wall until last August; brought the flag home when the store closed down; and decided to locate the men who signed it.
Last year, it arrived on some of their doorsteps.
“I was totally shocked,” said Kim Schaller, whose father owns the legendary Bridgeport landmark Schaller’s Pump at 3714 S. Halsted St., the oldest operating eatery in Chicago – its doors opened in 1881 — across the street from the 11th Ward headquarters.
“Debbie called me out of the blue last Sept. 8 and asked if I knew a man named John J. Schaller who once lived on South Bishop in Chicago,” she said.
“I told her he was my father and why did she want to know?”
“Debbie said she was attempting to locate all the men who signed the flag — and because many of them had also listed their addresses, she had been able to locate some of them.
“It was her intention to send it to them to revisit the flag if they wanted to,” added Schaller.
“Debbie was on a mission; obviously a mission from the heart.”
Her father does not remember signing the flag, but “we verified his signature from his Social Security card,” Schaller said. “Dad never talked about the war, but he felt Debbie’s feat was remarkable.”
John Schaller tells Sneed: “It was remarkable to see the names, but it brought back some sad memories. A lot of these people’s names I had forgotten. And now I am remembering them again.”
But on a lighter note, Schaller noted the name of Arthur Carroll from Detroit inscribed on the flag; it reminded him that Carroll had “beat me out of $50 when I bet on the Cubs winning the (1945) World Series, and the Detroit Tigers won.”
But the gift had a caveat; a condition: “We could only keep the flag for a few weeks, and then we’d have to send it to the next person on the list, ” Kim Schaller added.
“It’s been hard thinking I’d have to give it up. I’ve already been granted an extension,” she said.
No kidding. Ald. Jim Balcer (11th), who has dedicated his life to the cause of military veterans, tells Sneed he is “bringing all my veteran friends in to see the flag at Schaller’s Pump.
“Mr. Schaller is part of the greatest generation; a very humble man; and I have a deep respect for him. Knowing him has been an honor.
“I already went in and looked at the flag . . . and it was really special for me too,” Balcer said.
“My father also served in the Pacific during World War II,” Anthony said.
“I became just so taken with finding these men and their families . . . and I have cried and laughed with them, and it has almost been like a family reunion for me.
“So many of our fathers and uncles never talked about the war, and in a way, it’s like being given a chance to talk to them again,” she said.
“Out of the 189 names on the flag, I checked out half of them and found 30 families. Only four men are still alive that I’ve located, and only one has a recollection at all about the flag.
“His name is Arnold Doerr. He is 93 and lives in a nursing home in South Dakota. He remembers being in a hospital and some kind of tent where all sorts of Japanese weapons, guns and sword were set up on tables — and a flag was laying out.
“A lot of these men’s names — more than 50 — were written in beautiful script by one person; probably a kind nurse.”
Ironically, an hour after the Schallers received a phone call from Anthony — they were at Mercy Hospital when a nurse overheard the family talking about it. “Dad was there to have his pacemaker checked and the nurse, who was from the Philippines, told us she had been liberated at Leyte!”
The flag, which has been to six families so far, heads next to Mesa, Ariz., and David Flaherty, 92, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Bronze Star. “Many of these families hold family reunions around the flag’s arrival,” Anthony said.
“What’s wonderful is every single family is overwhelmed by the flag. But museums tend to put such flags in their backroom or a drawer and make no attempt to find these men and their families!
“I know. I called a number of museums, and they aren’t interested in taking their job one step further. I even volunteered to conduct searches for them.
“The flag is a way for families to connect and talk about a time in the past their fathers and grandfathers didn’t want to talk about — except maybe with other soldiers and guys they fought with,” she said.
“It’s a chance for connection the museums are missing.”
A postscript, please . . .
Ald. Balcer and Debbie Anthony are also hoping to locate the families of three additional U.S. soldiers from Illinois whose names are also inked on the flag — and who served in the Philippines during World War II.
• Harold J. Fredericks, who was born Nov. 30, 1923; died Nov. 5, 1994; and listed his address in 1945 as 3526 W. 62nd St. in Chicago.
• Thomas Ellis, who listed his address at 534 Oakdale Street in Chicago.
• Floyd Barr, who listed his home at 1006 S. 24th St., in Mt. Vernon, Ill.
Sneedlings . . .
Saturday’s birthdays: Justin Timberlake, 34; Kerry Washington, 38, and Portia de Rossi, 42 . . . Sunday’s birthdays: Lisa Marie Presley, 47; Harry Styles, 21, and Michael C. Hall, 44.