A U.S. flag waved by submarine Electrician’s Mate First Class Denny Landrum at the liberation of a Japanese prison camp in World War II has gained new prominence with the Christmas Day release of the movie “Unbroken” directed by Angelina Jolie.
Landrum and other Americans crafted the flag in secret at the Omori prison camp on an island off the Japanese coast near Tokyo. The camp was one of several that held Louis Zamperini , a captured Army Air Corps bombardier whose story was told in Laura Hillenbrand’s book “Unbroken” that was the basis of the movie.
The flag has been on display since last April at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Virginia, on loan from the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Another inmate took the flag home after the war and Denny Landrum, who died in 1980 at age 56, was never able to locate it, said Jeb Hockman, marketing director at the Virginia War Memorial.
Landrum’s son, Jerry Landrum, took up the search and with the Navy’s help, the iconic symbol of the indomitable spirit of American POWs was found stored in an off-site location of the Naval History and Heritage Command. “Our curators say it’s in great shape,” Hockman said.
The flag was fashioned by the inmates in secret from bed sheets and materials in care packages sent to the prisoners by the American Red Cross. The Japanese guards refused to give the packages to the inmates but stored them in a warehouse on the prison grounds.
“One of the things the Red Cross sent was art supplies,” Hockman said. “The prisoners found a way to sneak into the warehouse” and used colored grease pencils to draw the stars and stripes, he said.
In an iconic photo taken on Aug. 19, 1945, at the camp’s liberation, a bare-chested Denny Landrum can be seen waving the flag amid a celebrating group of smiling and waving inmates.
“None of them (the POWs) survived to see it” on display, Jerry Landrum told the Fredricksburg Free Lance-Star. The flag and the story behind it can now serve as reminders of what “my Dad and the rest of the crew and really any POW – that now people can know what they went through. They suffered in silence,” Landrum said.
Denny Landrum was serving on the submarine Grenadier when the sub was on patrol in the Lem Voalan Strait northwest of Penang on the Malay Peninsula on April 20, 1943, and was attacked by a Japanese warplane.
The badly-damaged sub came to rest of the bottom at 270-feet, according to the Navy’s account. The crew worked frantically to restore power and get the sub back to the surface.
The crippled sub was later scuttled as Japanese ships closed in and the crew spent the rest of the war suffering brutal treatment in the Japanese camps. Jerry Landrum said that his 6-foot-4 father at one point weighed 92 pounds.
The movie “Unbroken” depicts the brutal treatment also received by Zamperini, a distance runner known as the “Torrance (Calif.) Tornado” who competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Zamperini survived the crash in the Pacific of his B-24 Liberator bomber and spent 47 days in a raft before he was captured by the Japanese in the Marshall Islands.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.