Diocese Of Lafayette, Louisiana
— Priest—WWII Chaplain · U.S. Army Air Corps · P.O.W.-M.I.A. —
Lt. Fr. Joseph "Verbis" Lafleur was born to Valentine and Agatha Dupre Lafleur on January 24, 1912 in Ville Platte, LA and later moved to Opelousas, LA in 1926.From St. Landry Catholic Church, he was accepted by the Diocese of Lafayette for priestly studies at St. Joseph Minor Seminary (St. Ben's) in Covington, LA and later at Notre Dame Major Seminary in New Orleans, LA. Fr. Lafleur was ordained to the Priesthood on April 2, 1938 in St. John's Cathedral at Lafayette, LA. His first Solemn Mass was celebrated here on April 5, 1938. His first and only assignment within the Diocese of Lafayette was St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Abbeville, LA where he made a lasting impression upon the people of Vermillion Parish as a zealous and loving priest. Among the youth, Fr. Lafleur was not only a great inspiration of faith, but also an avid sportsman. In the summer of 1941, he volunteered for Chaplaincy in the Army Air Corps. To his mother he wrote, "I am volunteering for the military service because the other men do not have a choice." In July 1941, his initial assignment was Albuquerque, New Mexico as First Lieutenant with the 19th Bombardment Group. Arrival at Clark Field, Philippine Islands came in November 1941, and Japanese attacks followed on the 8th of December. Fr. Lafleur ministered to the wounded and dying without any regard for his personal safety. It was following the events at Clark Field that eventually led to the ordered surrender of all American soldiers to the Japanese Militia. For nearly two and one-half years, Fr. Lafleur was a P.O.W. at several prison camps including Davao and Lasang. From Lasang 750 men, including Fr. Lafleur, were forced on a "Hell Ship" destined for Japan. Most P.O.W.ships were nothing more than old freighter ships used by the Japanese to transport men to Japan. The ship upon which Fr. Lafleur perished The Shinyo Maru, was not flying the P.O.W. flag and was mistakenly torpedoed by the U.S.S.Paddle. Already severely weakened by malnutrition, dehydration and heat exhaustion many men were too weak or badly wounded to even try to escape the hold of the sinking and burning ship. It was here that Fr. Lafleur, "Padre," once more laid down his life for his man. He lead his men in prayer, blessed them and begun pushing men through the one escape hatch to the deck in order that they would have a chance at survival despite the Japanese's continued resistance. Only 83 of the 750 P.O.W. survived to tell the tradgic story of their plight and the heroism of Fr. Lafleur at Sindangan Point in Sindangan Bay, Mindanao, Philippine Islands. For his acts of Heroism while in the Philippines, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and was later awarded the Purple Heart and The Bronze Star.
A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13Erected 10/2008
Memorial Monument to:
Lt. Fr. Joseph "Verbis" Lafleur
Priest—WWII Chaplain U.S. Army Air Corps
Sculpted by renowned Italian artist, Franco Alessandrini, a monument in white Carrara marble depicts Fr Lafleur's last heroic moment of life. Inspiringly carved is Fr Lafleur struggling to push men to possible freedom from the hold of the torpedoed and sinking "Hell Ship", the Shinyo Maru.
The four sided base of the monument depicts significant events in Fr Lafleur's 32 years of life. The front name engraving displays a quote based upon Fr. Lafleur's favorite soldier-hero, whose literature was used in his time, Marshal Michel Nay, duke of Elchingen and prince of Moscow:"Venez voir comment meurt un pretre en bataille...Mais il me meurt pas" (Come see how a priest dies in battle...but he dies not) The Pine cones and rose had a great significance for Fr. Lafleur's mother during the days of his imprisonment. A pine sapling had been brought from St. Joseph's Seminary after Mrs. Lafleur would pray her Rosary while sitting by the window and looking out at the pine tree and climbing roses. In her mind, it was symbolic of her son's work. Upon hearing the news of her son's death while aboard a sinking ship, she remarked:" I knew it. Look out the window. My pine tree died at about that time" Months later an Officer came to present post-humously Chaplain Lafleur's awards. Strangely, as the Officer was in the house, a gust of wind arose and a cracking noise was heard. The dead pine tree had fallen to the earth.
Opposite the name engraving is a basso relief of Father Lafleur as Associate Pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Abbeville, LA from 1938-1941. The boys of Abbeville had very little financial resources available to them for non-necessities. Depicted is Fr. Lafleur bringing baseball bats, gloves, and balls to the boys. Some of the boys learned, after Fr. Lafleurs death, that he had purchased these bats, gloves and balls for them by hocking his wristwatch.
The two remaining basso reliefs are of Father Lafleur's time in the Philippine Islands. The first is Father Lafleur at the initial surprise attack on Clark Field Air Base on December 8, 1941. Here, Father Lafleur ministered to the wounded and dying without any regard for his personal safety.The final basso relief depicts the sinking of the prisoner of "Hell Ship", Shinyo Maru, on September 7, 1944 at Sindangan Point in Sindangan Bay, Mindanao, Philippine Islands where only 83 of 750 men survived.
Unveiling and Blessing on September 7. 2007 by:
Most Rev. Michael Jarrell, D.D.
6th Bishop, Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana & native son of St. Landry Catholic Church