Oscar Avery Cox
Cox was an Army Pvt. with the 200th CA Regt. (AA) - CC Battery F.
He was one of the "First 500" into Fukuoka Camp 17, and witnessed some of the worst atrocities the camp would be noted for.
News Article with Avery's Account of Capture and Liberation
The American Flag – should it be against the law to burn it?
issue has sparked strong emotion on both sides from many Americans in recent months
after the Supreme Court ruled that burning the flag is constitutional under the First Amendment, guarding freedom of speech. Artesia resident Avery Cox, a World War II veteran, is especially outraged that any American would even consider burning the flag. A flag, which he said, has stood for the freedom of all Americans – a freedom preserved in battle and paid for with the lives of many American soldiers.
Cox and his comrades risked their lives during World War II to protect just one warn flag.
Cox was serving with Batter F of the 200th Coast Guard Artillery Unit in the Philippines when he was captured by the Japanese and forced to endure the horrors of the Bataan Death March.
Many never made it through the march. Those that did spent the remainder of their time in a Japanese prison camp. Cox spent three years in a prisoner-of-war camp on the island of Kessu. Just before being captured, he and some of his fellow soldiers managed to confiscate an American flag from a ship. Throughout the death march, they managed to keep this flag hidden, passing it back and forth between them, all while knowing they might be killed or severely beaten if they got caught with the flag and that the flag would probably have been destroyed – maybe even burned. Nonetheless, they were willing to take the risk.
While in prison camp, they continued to keep the flag hidden – going to great lengths to protect it, hiding it in one place, then another. Cox said he really didn’t know how they managed it, but they did – still knowing the risk they were taking.
Life in the camp was harsh. Cox said when the camp started, there were about 1,500 prisoners – 500 Dutch, 500 Australians and 500 Americans. Later, 250 more Americans were brought in. Cox could not say how many survived the years at the camp. Most of his time at the camp was spent working in a coal mine located at the camp. The American-owned mine had been taken over by the Japanese during the war. “Anyone who was physically able to worked in the mine,” he said. The equipment was American made and was in pretty good shape, which made the work a little easier, he said,
After some time, he was assigned to the machine shop. This position enabled him to help himself and other prisoners. Using a little imagination, he was able to make such useful tools as razors and tweezers and a type of knife or scalpel that could be used to lance boils or infected areas to promote healing. He still owns some of the tools he made.
Shortly after the atomic bombs were dropped in Japan and the war was finally over, the Japanese surrendered. He said prisoners in the camp did not know atomic bombs had been dropped, but were aware of an increase of bombing activity. He said there were often 30 to 40 airplanes flying over the camp daily. At this point, Cox said, they began to sense the war was about to end.
However, the prisoners couldn’t be sure if the planes were American or not. “When plants flew over, we were told to lie face down on the ground,” he said. “If you looked up, the guards would hit you in the head with the butt of their guns.”
One day, the prisoners were called out into the camp yard and told they did not have to work that day and that they could use the day to wash clothes, just lie around or whatever. This seemed strange, Cox said, there had been no days off. The next morning when they woke up, there were no Japanese in the camp. They had all run off, he said.
Shocked, not knowing what was going on , they stood in the camp wanting to run but afraid to. It could have been a trap. There could be land mines or other types of explosives planted around the outside of the camp, Cox said suddenly he and fellow prisoner, E.L. Fanning, who now lives in Big Springs, Texas, remembered the flag. They retrieved it from its hiding place, tore the Japanese flag from the flag pole and raised the American flag over the camp.
Cheers roared throughout the camp. While raising the flag, Cox said they still feared some kind of trap, that the Japanese might be watching, ready to shoot, but they raised the flag anyway,
During the next few days, they got almost everyone in the camp to sign the Japanese flag they had already pulled down. Although he would have liked to have kept the flag in one piece, he tore it in half and gave half to Fanning.
Finally, he said, a day or two later, a few prisoners got up the nerve to run. After about three days, a plane flew overhead, dropping two barrels of food supplies. For these half-starved prisoners, this was a most welcome sight.
day or two later, a plane flew over, a parachute opened and an American soldier came down right in
the middle of camp. It was then that the prisoners still in the camp were told the war was over.
They were given maps, showing them a location where they would be put aboard a ship for home. It
was up to them to find their way to the port any way they could.
Before leaving the camp, Cox took the flag down to take home with him. It had made the journey this far, he reasoned, Why not the trip home? Cox said he and a group of about 16 prisoners left the camp together, walking for several miles before coming across an old bus. They took the bus, driving several miles before coming upon an old railroad train. None of those in the group had ever actually operated a train before, but one of them who was from Portales said his Dad had worked for the railroad.
That was good enough, and he was made chief engineer.
Finally, they made it to the port, where they awaited their turn to board the ship for home.
By the time he left Japan, Cox, who normally weighed about 175 pounds, had dropped to 98 pounds.
While aboard ship, a trip of about 30 days, they were encouraged to eat and food was made available
them 24 hours a day.
He had gained up to 126 pounds by the time the ship landed in the U.S.
After about 12 days in a hospital in Seattle, Wash., Avery was finally on his way back to New Mexico.
While aboard the ship, he and Fanning again agreed to share portions of the Japanese flag. Each half was torn into half again to give to fellow POWs. But the American flag went home with Avery in one piece. He still has that old flag and considers it one of his most treasured possessions.
The raising of that flag over the prison camp had symbolized victory and freedom for he and his fellow American POWs.
Burn “it” or any other flag? Not on your life.
Written by Staff Write Ruthie Sherrell, Nov. 5, 1989 submitted by Cox's son, Bert.
Biographies Page Main Page