By Army Staff Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio
American Forces Press Service
July 6, 2008 - More than 50 U.S. sailors rendered a salute as their nation's colors were raised over Camp Eggers in honor of America's Independence Day. What made the ceremony so special was the American flag had only 48 stars. The flag was flown courtesy of retired Navy Cmdr. Joseph Agra III, who works at the Kabul International Airport as a logistics mentor for the Afghan National Army Air Corps.
Agra acquired the flag from a Filipino fisherman while living in the Philippines in 2000. The fisherman retrieved it from his net while fishing off the coast of the Bataan Peninsula.
"I saw the flag on a pole and asked the fisherman where he got it," Agra said. "After he told me, I asked if I could have it. He sold it to me for ten dollars."
Agra said after taking the flag home and washing it, his son realized it only had 48 stars. Upon this discovery, Agra started researching flags for a hint of its origin.
Because the 48-star flag was only flown between 1912 and 1959, Agra theorized that it came from one of five U.S. Navy ships that were sunk by the Imperial Japanese Forces in the opening months of World War Two.
"I researched the ships that were sunk in hostile fire, instead of being scuttled," Agra said. "When you're scuttled, you take everything you can off the ship. I think this flag went down with a ship."
For eight years, Agra carried the flag with him to several locations. He has flown the flag over camps in the Philippines, Kuwait, Iraq and now, Afghanistan.
After the flag was raised, Navy Capt. Shawno May, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan command surgeon directorate, spoke to the formation of sailors.
"The men that served under this flag more than 50 years ago gave their last full measure of devotion," May said. "These men were fighting in the Philippines to help freedom ring in a land where it wasn't. Again, America finds itself in a country where freedom is just beginning to ring."
Master Chief Bennie Gloria, CSTC-A Equal Opportunity advisor, said the ceremony was a perfect way to start the Independence Day celebration.
"It's very important that we remember our shipmates that came before us and lost their lives," Gloria said. "We are their legacy."
When the ceremony ended, the sailors took turns touching the flag and taking in a little part of history.
"I wanted to share it with others," Agra said. "I could have kept it and hung it in my living room, but then I would only see it."
Agra retired from active duty last year and will return to his home in the Philippines after his tour in Afghanistan. When he returns, he plans to donate the flag to a World War Two museum and American cemetery near the location it was found.
"It's their flag," Agra said, speaking of the veterans who lost their life in World War Two. "It's a symbol. These men lost their lives fighting for their country, they are buried there. That is where the flag should be."
(Army Staff Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio is assigned to Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan)