World War II POW, Father Joseph Lafleur, posthumously awarded service medals
About 10 years ago at a Catholic church, a fellow parishioner of Suzanne Guerra’s handed her prayer card with a photographed portrait on it. The photo struck her: it depicted the priest who baptized her more than 60 years prior, although the person who handed it to Guerra had no idea. Guerra didn’t even know at that time the role that priest had played in her life. But she did recognized the photo from the side table in her grandmother’s home in Abbeville.
“I said ‘Oh my gosh, that’s Father Lafleur,’” Guerra recalled in a telephone interview from her home in Houston. “When I was growing up in Abbeville, my grandmother always had this picture in her house. As long as I could remember she had that picture."
It was Father Joseph Lafleur, who died a prisoner of war in 1944 while aboard a Japanese “hell ship” that ferried U.S. prisoners, so dubbed because of wretched conditions on board. The ship was not marked as carrying POWs, according to www.fatherlafleur.org. American torpedoes errantly sank the ship, killing some 670 U.S. prisoners. Lafleur is remembered through survivor accounts for helping wounded fellow soldiers escape the hull of the ship by pushing them up to the deck, according to the website.
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