Several years ago, Shawn Concannon had the impulse to record the wartime stories and memories of his father, a former WWII Navy Seabee. Shawn arranged for and paid a videographer but before the job could be done, his father passed away. Shawn was heartbroken that those stories and memories never came to light. They were irretrievable – lost to history.
A few years later, while browsing through an antique store, Shawn happened to spot an old 48 Star flag. It showed the patina of its age – stains and threadbare sections, but it was still a beauty.
It was being used as no more than a backdrop for rusty hand tools and weathered junk. All of a sudden, his father’s voice piped up in his head – “Get that crap off of there!” And so without another moment's hesitation, Shawn purchased the flag and left the store.
Not long after buying the tired but beautiful old relic, Shawn felt a calling. He may have missed out on the wartime stories of his father, but he could collect the stories of others who lived through that remarkable time. Thus was born 48 STARS The Movie. Since then, the flag has been flown on the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, the USS Missouri, and has been carried the length and breadth of the United States as the 48 STARS team has collected 48 interviews with people who lived through the Second World War.
As a son of a WWII Veteran, I grew up hearing the war stories of the South Pacific. The events, the lives, the deplorable conditions and the death found on the war islands were painted as living pictures by a patriotic man that lived it firsthand. As any child of the “Greatest Generation,” we saw their lives through their eyes, the occasional old war movie, and the “I was there.” There was always the story within a story.
Sometimes in life you only learn to truly appreciate those stories, and the men and women who lived them, once they are gone. The sacrifices they made in the most destructive period in human history should never be forgotten. I heard, “We did what we had to,” over and over. Their lives have shaped our world today. The freedoms and choices we enjoy, the opportunities to build our lives as we choose, are ours because they fought and died.
My father Richard W. Schmidt served his country as a Navy Seabee. The group had the official motto, Construimus, Batuimus – “We Build, We Fight.” His three years in the South Pacific as a young man from Indiana would entail island hopping with the Marines and Army troops. After the war, he relived the amusing fun of a USO tour and their Hollywood types, the Pacific torrential rains, the rot of the jungle or the rats “as big as a small dog”. He would recall these memories often with broken laughter. On occasion, he would slip into the dark side of the war. His presence, body posture and voice tempo would change – a painful place of memories he did not like to revisit.
These men and women who fought WWII were cut from a unique cloth. Toughened by a deep economic depression and woven tight to withstand the onslaught of the most critical time in modern history, this generation was the right generation; at the right place at the right time. The battles and wars would only be won because they gave it their all.
Today, our world would be so different if the war had not ended in the Allies favor. It is very hard to imagine what our planet would be today if the Axis had succeeded in their sinister efforts.
This story is being told through first-hand accounts reflecting patriotism, honor, life and death. It is this journey that will be captured through 48 STARS. The journey of a 48 star American flag will weave these stories together and become a living testament to the Greatest Generation.
48 Stars - The Flag
As many of my friends and family know, I like to go to antique and junk stores to look for those old forgotten items that remind me of my grandparents, parents, childhood or simply an item that catches my eye.
I was in such a store when I came around the corner and in an instant I heard my deceased father’s voice in the back of my head saying, “Get that crap off of there!” There, hanging on the wall was an amazing and gorgeous, old 48 star American flag. She was weather stained and tired, with visible repairs and a patina that only a lifetime of service could give it. Someone had once cared for this flag.
Why was my father’s voice ringing so clearly in my head? Was it because of the way in which it was displayed? The other items hanging upon it and leaning against it were old rusting metal hand tools, shears, and the like.
My father, Richard W. Schmidt, has been deceased for several years, but his pride in this country and the sacrifices made by his generation are still strong in my memories. Whoever hung the flag didn’t pay it the respect it deserved. I listened to my father’s voice and bought the flag.
This wasn’t an ordinary flag; it is a 6’ x 8’ 48 star United States flag. It’s the same flag our fathers and grandfathers would have seen with their own eyes. This was the same flag they fought under during WWI, WWII and the Korean War. By the markings on the flag’s hoist, it was originally a 6’ x 10’ flag. The stripes were trimmed back nearly two feet, seemingly to remove weather damage that was beyond repair. This was done to many flags to extend their usable life. The flag still holds fast the strength of its linen fibers. This flag deserved a better home and a maybe place of honor.
The flag found a home and was proudly displayed in my tall living room for about a year. I had a number of friends and family inquire about it. I could only speculate about its history or its age. A large flag generally wasn’t privately owned during the WWII era. Had it been flown in front a government building? Was it flown on a ship? Did it see battle? It really didn’t matter to me. What mattered most was simply what the flag represents to our country… freedom.
I didn’t know the flag’s past, but in time I would give it a future. During a trip to Hawaii, I flew the flag over the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor to honor of my father and his service during WWII.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon on October 27th, 2012. My daughter Jordan, three friends and I took the ferry to the USS Arizona memorial – a large, white, beautiful architectural span that crosses the midship of the sunken wreckage, but does not touch her haul.
I had spoken ahead of time to the park ranger about flying the flag. The five of us, along with the rest of the visitors, disembarked the ferry onto the memorial. Meeting the park ranger, we made our way over to the tall flag pole, the only item attached to the wreckage of the once powerful battleship.
The park ranger commented that flags flown at the memorial by visitors are rarely ever “old ones like this.” I attached the flag to the halyard line making sure she was secured. I became completely unaware of how the other visitors around me had taken notice. Eyes cast upward, necks strained to keep the flag in view, I cautiously raised it above us, wondering the whole time if the tired old flag would survive the strong winds.
On that warm day in Pearl Harbor with perfect blue skies, this old 48 star flag came to life, stretching with the wind. It was the same era flag that the USS Arizona had flown on that fatal day of December 7, 1941. Set against the larger 50 star flag that flew above her, the age of the old gal became very evident.
The flag flew for a short ten minutes. As I slowly brought it down, a strong breeze from the north held the flag at its full length and locked the flag into an embrace with the upper brim of the white memorial. It was as if the seasoned flag whispered, “I’m here.”
I climbed the memorial railing and reached high to pull the flag around the memorial. Four men with “high and tight” haircuts in civilian clothes appeared out of the crowd. I later learned that each of them had served or were still in the military. I thanked them for their service to our country, and they in turn thanked me for the honor of taking part in paying respect for our fathers’ flag.
One man carefully gathered the stripes as I held the stars. Silently each took their places around the length of the flag and, with military precision, began to fold the flag.
The Mighty Mo
Two hours later our little group found itself upon the deck of the USS Missouri, a museum ship at Pearl Harbor. It lay in anchor facing the USS Arizona in a solitary attentiveness and guard over the sunken ship.
I carried the flag under my arm in a clear, soft plastic case as I took the ship tour. While walking among history, I gazed upward to the towering flag staff of the old ship. In a single moment I thought, “Why not?” I left the group and went to the head bowsman at the entrance to the ship. I asked if he would raise a flag upon the massive ship. He politely stated that the gift shop was in charge of that; plus, it was getting too late to hoist a flag. I watched his eyes as they moved toward the straight rows of stars under my arm. His eyes grew larger and his facial expression went from being reserved to excited. He asked if that was an “old flag?” I answered it was. Without hesitation he said, “You’re darn right we’re going to hoist her!”
He gathered the ship’s historical volunteers as I went back to the tour to collect my group. Earlier I had noticed a certain gentleman who was also with the tour. His physical appearance and posture indicated he likely had been in fit shape his entire life. His baseball cap, polo shirt and ring read “West Point.” I walked up to him and asked if he was military. He said he was a 33-year retired Army Colonel – West Point. Out of honor to the military service personnel, I said, “Sir, we are about to raise this old flag upon the USS Missouri, would you consider the privilege?” Without hesitation he said, “It would be my honor.”
We left the tour and climbed several flights of stairs to a flight deck high above the starboard side of the massive ship; the same side of the vessel where the Japanese signed the Declaration of Surrender. I handed the flag over to the Colonel. He and the bowsman attached the 48 star flag to the halyard. The bowsman then stepped back and announced over the ship’s radio intercom that “A 48 star flag is about to be raised on the battleship USS Missouri.”
The Colonel shot the flag up the mast like a rocket (as is appropriate for proper flag rising). She again flew strong again in the northern breeze.
The Beginning and The End
The flag was brought down slowly and again gathered up by the attendants. The Colonel, in appropriate take-charge fashion, directed the folding of the large flag. With precision and careful detail, he directed the group to the final tuck. He completed the ceremony and with great reverence, handed the flag back to me and thanked me. I returned the thank you and said that I was very honored he had raised the flag.
In a matter of just two hours, this old tired flag flew proudly upon the vessel where WWII began and then on the vessel where the war in the Pacific ended.
Upon returning home to Nebraska, I placed the flag into its elevated display position. Months went by and I couldn’t get that day and those events out of my head. I raised that flag to the USS Arizona memorial to honor my father and discovered something of much greater value. I discovered the symbolic power the American flag has to this nation and around the world, as well as to the men and women that have served and those that died under her.
This was the early beginnings of the 48 Stars project and the journey this one flag will undertake to give this country’s greatest generation an opportunity to educate and remind us what so many have sacrificed to give this country and many other countries the freedoms we still enjoy today.
Shawn M. Concannon
48 STARS Creator and Director