On Flag Day, A European Collector Pays Tribute

Kreuk-vanderbeek flag

Van der Beek WWII flag

It led the way to the greatest victory in modern military history, charged forward in an historic fight for freedom: a 48-star flag that guided the US Navy to the shores of Utah Beach on June 6, 1944 – D-Day.

For sixty years, the flag remained a treasured souvenir of Europe’s liberation from the Nazis, lovingly and respectfully preserved by US Navy Lieutenant Howard Van der Beek, the skipper aboard Navy Vessel LCC60, from which the flag once flew. In a memoir, he recalled: “At some point, I looked astern and saw what lay at sea behind us: the greatest armada the world had every known, the greatest it would ever know. I must have been overwhelmed by the sight as I clung to the rail for a moment to take in the magnitude of that assembled fleet….”

Van der Beek passed away in 2014, aged 97; and now his flag has found a new owner – not another American, but rather, a grateful Dutchman: art collector Bert Kreuk.

“It feels almost as if it were meant to be,” Kreuk wrote in an e-mail. Indeed, the experience of buying the flag, which he picked up from Heritage Auctions, Dallas, for $514,000, was a prof soundly emotional one, he told the Dutch press – so much so that he didn’t even realize the price when the hammer fell. (The flag had carried an estimate of $100,000.) “It still has bullet holes,” he noted. “It is so special.”

Battle flags, observes Heritage Auctions in a statement issued to promote the Van der Beek flag, “have long occupied the upper strata of military collectibles.” Four Revolutionary War battle flags, for instance, sold for a record $17.3 million in 2006 at Sotheby’s New York.

But monetary value was clearly not the point for Kreuk. Rather, he explained, “I bought it because of very personal and emotional reasons.” In 1940, his uncle Theo’s family was killed during the German bombing raids on Rotterdam. “One of the surviving members of the family left Holland, and sailed on merchant supply convoys between the US and Britain,” Kreuk said. “He was torpedoed twice and saved twice, yet he continued with his missions, and after the war he stayed in Britain, where he lived until his death.” To Kreuk and his uncle – who is also his art advisor – “this flag represents freedom which so many take for granted – but for that freedom, so many young and brave Americans gave their lives. Can you imagine,” he added, “that for so many who died on that day in Normandy, this was probably the last flag they saw? It makes me feel very humble and emotional. And it brings our family story full-circle, at last.”

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