A popular trope is that on U.S. military bases the flagpole’s finial– the golden ball at the top of the pole–contains a razor, a match, and a bullet, just in case the base falls, so that the banner doesn’t fall into enemy hands.
With that being said, the West Point Museum holds a small strip of cloth, a fragment of an American Flag, formerly carried by Black Knights legend, Paul D. Bunker (USMA 1903).
This artifact in the West Point Museum collection rotates on and off exhibit. Following his graduation, Bunker served 40 years in the Army. During World War Two he was on the island of Corregidor when it was captured by Japanese forces, becoming a prisoner of war. On 6 May 1942, Colonel Bunker was ordered to remove the U.S. Flag from its pole for destruction and raise a white sheet (signifying the American surrender). Prior to the U.S. Flag’s destruction, he cut a piece out of the red stripe. On 10 June he cut this piece of the flag into two segments giving one piece to fellow POW Colonel Delbert Ausmus and holding on to the other. Bunker would not survive his time in captivity and died of starvation and illness on 16 March 1943. He was cremated with the segment of the flag he kept. Ausmus kept Bunker’s war diary, as well as this segment of the flag through his time in captivity.
Ausmus said, “On several occasions, the shirt and all of my possessions were examined by the Japanese without the piece of flag being discovered”. Upon liberation, Ausmus presented this segment of the U.S. Flag at Corregidor to the Secretary of War.
Colonel Bunker’s cremated remains were recovered in 1948 and re-interned at West Point. His legacy still lives as an inspiration in the West Point Community. During his time at West Point Bunker was an outstanding football player, contributing to three victories over Navy. He was inducted into the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame in 1969, as well as the Army West Point Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.