Aurora Township World War II hero to celebrate 100th birthday
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There's no denying the significant contributions of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
And there's no denying that 1st Lt. Henry W. Flora of Aurora Township helped make sure Army generals and elected officials in the U.S. knew about those contributions between 1943 and 1945.
It was an important task for a young man of 25 years old to help establish the radio communications network sending information back to the states from wherever MacArthur was establishing headquarters -- usually on a ship -- during the conflict to regain control of the Philippines.
"I was put in charge of a radio transmitting station in Brisbane, Australia, the only communication for MacArthur back to the U.S. from his headquarters," said Flora, who will celebrate his 100th birthday with family and friends from Batavia on Feb. 17 at The Lodge at Laurelwood in Batavia, a location formerly known simply as the boathouse on the east side of the Fox River off River Street. His actual birthday is Feb. 16.
"Our transmissions went to San Francisco and onto Washington, D.C., through a secret code that was never broken by the Germans or Japanese," Flora said. "It was the only one direct from Brisbane to the U.S."
Ultimately, Flora operated in an arena that made him one of the true unsung heroes of the war. As a member of the Signal Corps, he was operating high-power transmitter systems in Australia, New Guinea and Manila. In no short measure, one could say the U.S. Army's communications intelligence efforts certainly helped bring victory to that region of the Pacific.
Flora and members of his communications team were basically the last step in a complicated network to send updated intelligence to the U.S. A communication was initiated by a general or his staff in either a teletype or voice message, then encrypted and coded, and sent to Flora and his team.
"Whatever came in, it was ready to send (coded) to the U.S.," Flora said.
Flora, who lives in his own home and still drives a car, has a sharp mind in remembering the details of his World War II duties.
After graduating from Penn State University in 1941, Flora said he worked a year at West Penn Power Company as a relay engineer before volunteering to join the Army in June of 1943.
"I got a commission because I had ROTC training and went to various officers schools," Flora said. "I studied radar in depth, which was secret at the time, and went to AT&T for training on what became my future contribution to the war."
At the same time, Flora was struck by Cupid's arrow and had fallen in love with a girl in New York named Lois, who would eventually become his wife.
When Flora believed he would be stateside for another year, he proposed and Lois began planning a New York wedding while he was training in Missouri.
"We were waiting for me to get my leave before getting married, and the day my leave got approved, I was told the commander wanted to see me," Flora recalled.
The commander told him he was going overseas in a week, so the planned wedding was moved to Missouri where he married Lois in a chapel. Flora went to the west coast to be shipped out, while Lois went back to New York.
"We were at sea for a month and my orders didn't say anything about New Guinea, but that's where we ended up," Flora said. "When I reported to the Signals Corp officer, he said he wasn't sure what I was doing there."
That mix-up was short-lived and they were all soon off to Australia to set up MacArthur's radio communications network for the march back into the Philippines and then preparations for an assault on Japan.
"MacArthur moved his headquarters through the different islands, so we had four receiving and transmitting ships, and I was in charge of two of the ships," Flora said. "We did all of the installation of equipment and stripped away all of the marine gear to make room."
After MacArthur's return to the Philippines and Americans had established control of Manila, Flora and his team moved inland to operate a transmitting station.
"I was transferred to a land station and was in charge of the specialty transmitters," Flora said. "The ships we were on were being converted and prepared for the invasion of Japan."
Even though Hollywood war movies generally have scenes for dramatic effect in which radio communications systems are failing, Flora contends they worked far more often than not.
"It was very gratifying work, and I felt that what I was doing was quite significant," he said. "And I felt I did it quite well."
In addition to remembering his victorious contributions to the war, family and friends are simply celebrating Flora's longevity in reaching the century mark.
"We are really excited about this celebration," his son Bob Flora said. "He has said many times that if he could live to see his first grandchild, that would be his life's fulfillment.
"Well, his first grandchild is 43 years old now, and of course he has many great-grandchildren."
In addition to Bob, Flora and his wife had three other children -- Heather Bernbaum, Steve Flora and Holly Flora-Holmquist. His wife Lois passed away in April of 2016 after 72 years of marriage.