This Catholic priest-chaplain assigned to the Philippines died aboard the Japanese POW ship Shinyo Maru in 1942.
(Military Times Hall of Valor: http://valor.militarytimes.com/recipient.php?recipientid=22916)
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The following is used with permission from Deacon Carl Kube. It will be published in the December newsletter of the Veterans Club in Sun City, Roseville, CA.
Fr. Joseph Verbis LaFleur, Chaplain in WW2
This account is from a homily as heard by Carl Kube as delivered by Father Frank Lowe, Air Force Chaplain, on Sept. 20, 2016 at St. Clare Church [Roseville, CA] and also the result of further research.
Fr. LaFleur was a Catholic Chaplain from the United States during WW2 and serving in the Philippines beginning in 1941. He was arrested there and held prisoner by the Japanese for 2 years. During that time he ministered and helped the other prisoners who were sick and emaciated. Fr. Frank Lowe’s father was also a prisoner there. At the time his father was an agnostic (he did not know if there was a God) but in seeing Fr. LaFleur help the other prisoners he said to himself that if he ever was freed he would become Catholic.
In the prison camp in the Philippines Fr. LaFleur not only ministered to the spiritual needs of the prisoners but also procured cigarettes and extra food for them. At one point a work detail of prisoners was assigned to fix an air strip - some were greatly emaciated and debilitated. Father LaFleur volunteered to take the place of one of them even though he was not required to do so. Fr. LaFleur told one of the prisoners who planned to escape that he himself would never escape but that he had a duty to stand by the prisoners until the last one was freed.
In 1944 Fr. LaFleur was sent on a Japanese ship with other prisoners of war from the Philippines destined for Japan. Fr. LaFleur organized the prisoners on the ship who looked to him for leadership. He made sure the meager food and water which was supplied to them was divided equally. They used a tablespoon to do it. At one point he gave up his ration of water to another prisoner who needed it more. Eventually the ship was accidentally torpedoed by the United States and many prisoners were injured or died. Fr. LaFleur was last seen trying to help the other prisoners to escape the hold of the ship through the hatch.
US Army Major William Sharp said Fr. LaFleur thought of everyone but himself and raised the spirits of the prisoners by caring for them. Major Sharp said he was deserving of the highest commendation and recognition. He has already receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. He is under consideration for the Medal of Honor.
Later Frank Lowe’s father escaped and returned home and became a Catholic as he had said he would . His son, Frank, also was Catholic. Frank was so inspired by the story of Fr. Lafleur that he became a priest and eventually a chaplain as well. He has served stateside as well as being deployed to Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq. Father Frank has been a chaplain in the Air Force for 26 years and is now about to retire.
There is a statue of Fr. LaFleur assisting prisoners at St. Landry Parish, Opelousas, LA.Here is the link to a video which tells his story. The account of Fr. LaFleur in prison begins at about 25 minutes.
Here is a link to an article on Chaplain Frank Lowe.