July 3: Rodney Kephart’s Flag
Rodney Kephart was born in Spencer, Iowa, on this date in 1917. He and his family later moved to North Dakota.
In early 1941, Kephart took a job building a military airfield on Wake Island in the Pacific. On December 7, the same day Pearl Harbor was bombed, Wake Island was also attacked. Kephart, a civilian contractor, assisted the US Marines defending the Island. The Americans fought off the Japanese until December 23, when the remaining forces surrendered. Rodney Kephart became a prisoner.
Along with several hundred prisoners, Rodney was shipped to Japan. 98 prisoners left on Wake were eventually executed.
For the next several years, Kepart worked in a POW labor camp. Many of his fellow prisoners died from malnutrition and mistreatment by Japanese guards. Rodney served as the camp Chaplain and provided services for those who passed away.
As the war was ending, the last days of August, 1945, the Japanese guards abandoned the camp. American planes dropped food and supplies to the prisoners. Red, white and blue parachutes used to drop supplies were brought to Rodney with instructions to make an American flag. Kephart worked all night, and on the morning of September 2, the day the Japanese surrendered, the American flag was raised over the Fukuoka Number 6 POW camp. It flew over the camp until the prisoners were repatriated.
Rodney did not see the flag again until 36 years later at a POW convention in Oregon. It was on loan from the Idaho Historical Society. No one knew how it got from Japan to Idaho.
In 1994 the flag was brought to Jamestown, North Dakota, to be displayed for a convention in the custodial care of Mr. Kephart. At the close of the convention, Raymond Seerup of Miles City asked what Rodney was going to do with the flag. “Send it back to Idaho” was his response. Seerup said, “That flag is yours. You made it, you keep it.”
Rodney did keep his flag, but was then sued by the Idaho Historical Society! However, the Historical Society had no proof of ownership. Kephart’s proof was he had made the flag. Rodney won the suit.
Rodney Kephart passed away at Stanley, North Dakota, on February 5, 2003, and was buried as a civilian with full military honors for fighting with the Marines on Wake Island.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson
- Mansell.com, Flags of Our POW Fathers
- University of ND, Rodney Kephart POW, Oral History Interview