Posted on July 9th, 2016 by:

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Chaplain Joseph Lafleur heroically gave his life to save his fellow soldiers while he was a prisoner of the Japanese.

Joseph Verbis Lafleur was born on January 24, 1912 in Ville Platte, Louisiana and grew up in town of Opelousas. He joined the Army Air Corps in the summer of 1941 and was sent to Clark Field in the Philippines as a Chaplain with the 19th Bomb Group, arriving only weeks before Japanese troops invaded the islands.

During the Battle for Bataan, Father Lafleur was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery while administering first- aid and evacuating the wounded.

joseph lafleur

Chaplain Joseph Lafleur

When American and Philippine Forces surrendered on Bataan in April, 1942, Joseph Lafleur became a Prisoner of War. He survived the hell of Japanese captivity in the prison camps of Camp O’Donnell, Cabanatuan, Davao, and Lasang.

While imprisoned, Joseph Lafleur endured multiple beatings from Japanese guards for administering aid and comfort to fellow POWs. Although suffering from malaria and malnutrition he refused to accept medicine and extra food so others in worse physical condition could receive them. He also volunteered for the most grueling work details to spare others the pain and suffering.

On September 7, 1944, Father Lafleur was sent by ship along with 750 other POWs to Japan to work as slave laborers. These ships were known as “Hell ships” for their squalid conditions and high mortality rate. During the voyage, Lafleur’s ship, the Shinyo Maru, which did not carry any identifying markings as a POW transport, was torpedoed by the American submarine USS Paddle.

After the torpedoing, Japanese guards threw grenades among the POWs in the cargo hold and began shooting at anyone who tried to escape the burning ship. Others, sick and malnourished were too weak to flee. Father Lafleur calmly led the men in prayer, blessed them then began looking for an alternate way of escape. Finding an escape hatch, he worked tirelessly to push his fellow POWs to safety. Only 83 of the 750 men survived the sinking. Father Joseph Lafleur went down with the ship.

For his heroic actions, he was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Father Joseph Lafleur’s Distinguished Service Cross citation reads:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to First Lieutenant (Chaplain) Joseph Verbis LaFleur (ASN: 0-413997), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Chaplain in Headquarters Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group (H), FIFTH Air Force, in action against enemy forces during the first Japanese attack on a Philippine Island airport on 8 December 1941. Chaplain LaFleur worked among the wounded, removing them to safety, and comforting the dying. First Lieutenant LaFleur’s intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 5th Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces.

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