The Ottumwa Courier

February 12, 2014

Uncle Wilson's Flag

Courier staff writer

---- — ELDON — Breaking into Eldon's Opera House was bad enough. Stealing the American flag was worse.

A family in Eldon says their hearts are breaking after a burglary last week resulted in the theft of a framed American flag presented in World War II after the death of their mother's brother.

"His parents received a memorial flag to honor his sacrifice to his country. It has been in the family ever since," said Jo Eddy. "It wouldn't be of value to anyone else."

She said the family decided to put it on display "a couple years ago" at the Opera House, not only to honor Wilson Finney but to honor the many Eldon men who sacrificed their lives in World War II, including "Uncle Wilson's" brother, Lieutenant Junior Grade Carl Edwin Finney, who was lost aboard another submarine.

"The whole family was Navy," Eddy said.

"The local AmVets was named after [those] two," said her sister, Linda Durflinger. "When I realized they'd taken Uncle Wilson's flag, it really got to me."

Whoever broke in stole more than that. Eddy, who works at the opera house as a volunteer, said burglars took fossils, a high school basketball trophy and a box full of batteries.

They described the 1940s-era flag as being in a triangular frame.

Both sisters said they and their siblings sent a "Letter to the Editor" to the Courier in the hopes that the flag will be returned to them.

"We hope the more people that know about it, the better our chances are of seeing it again," Durflinger said.

The family knows the history behind the flag — and the man.

Eddy said the submarine USS Trout delivered ammunition from Pearl Harbor to the Philippines and then, to compensate for the weight of the ammunition, filled the ballast with 20 tons of gold and silver bars from Manila banks to keep it out of Japanese hands. Submariners on that tour said that when they dropped off this "golden cargo, they underwent the most thorough inspection" the crew had ever seen.

The Trout was known, Eddy said, for its aggressive tactics. In the first 10 patrols, the boat sank 23 enemy ships. She set out on her 11th tour on Feb. 8, 1944. It was an offensive war patrol in water heavily patrolled by the enemy. She failed to return. Among the crew of the USS Trout was Eldon native, Motor Machinist's Mate 2/c Wilson Finney of Eldon.

— News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark