A piece of history returned to Ford Island in a simple pine box today. A 48-star U.S. flag flown above the Marine Barracks on Ford Island during the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack was rescued by a Marine... saved for 50 years, and finally returned to a place of honor.
To set the stage… the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 a 20-year-old Lance Corporal Aaron M. "George" Geiger heard the first shots of the attack … he recalls he "didn't even have a shirt on" but went to get his weapon after the building shook and rounds came "flying in." He recalls Corporal Young [first name unknown] asked him and some others to help post colors. Running to the flagpole, Geiger took the place of a Marine that was having trouble concentrating on the task at hand.
"All I did when I got out there -- I grabbed the lanyard and pulled the colors up," Geiger said.
After that Geiger said he didn't wait around for formalities but took cover and started shooting at the planes, which he initially thought were Chinese.
The following day he found the damaged flag in a trashcan ready to be burned along with Navy uniforms soaked in "black bunker oil." Rather than have it burned, he pulled the flag out and sent it home to his mother along with a box of clothes he was preparing to send home.
Marine Master Sergeant Geiger (retired), now in his 80’s and living in Beaufort, South Carolina, said he'd forgotten about the flag for almost 50 years until his mother died in 1990. In sorting through her belongings, the clothing and the flag were found. Master Sergeant Geiger had the 48-star flag cleaned and repaired, returning it to Hawaii in 1991 as he proudly "carried it down Kalakaua Avenue" in a parade honoring the Pearl Harbor survivors on the 50th anniversary of the attack. He presented the cherished symbol to a Marine colonel who he knew would put it on display in a small museum at the Marine Barracks at Pearl Harbor in Puller Hall.
When the Marines puled out of Pearl Harbor to be consolidated at another location on the island the flag was transferred to the office of Commander Navy Region Hawaii where it remained on display in the reception area.
In 2004 Geiger asked that the flag be transferred to the National Park Service for display at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitors Center.
"I want everybody that goes to Hawaii to see that a Marine donated that flag -- Aaron M. Geiger, born November 3, 1921," said Geiger. "A man in Louisiana offered me $50,000 for the flag. I wouldn't take it. I thought it'd be better to let the American people see it."
Fully aware of the flag's symbolism, Geiger noted, "When you go into battle, you're prepared. You're taught to fight. We weren't ready for what the Japanese did to us. That wasn't fair - but they didn't get me."
Navy Lieutenant Brett Lawrence, aide to Rear Admiral Mike Vitale, Commander, Navy Region Hawai'i presents the 1941 flag to Bernard Doyle, the Park Service's Chief Ranger at the USS Arizona Memorial. Photo by Joe Kane
***Much of this info comes from an article by Becky Hommon, Counsel, Commander Navy Region Hawaii.