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Americana Week 2019

Battle-Worn Flag from the D-Day Landings, An Important World War II Artifact Rescued at Sea

By Sotheby's

T he D-Day landings are heralded not only as one of the pivotal moments of the second World War, but also as one of the boldest and most successful large-scale invasions in military history. One of the highlights of Sotheby’s forthcoming sale of Fine Manuscript and Printed Americana is the battle-worn flag from the USS Corry (DD-463), the lead destroyer at Utah Beach, rescued by Bronze-Star recipient Lieutenant Paul Nicholas Garay as the vessel was sinking. By rescuing the Corry’s flag from obscurity, Lt. Garay acted as the custodian for an object that is both an exceptionally important D-Day artifact and an enduring symbol of the Allies’ triumph over Axis Powers in World War II.

On 5 June 1944, more than 5,000 Allied vessels crossed the English Channel for the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. The destroyer USS Corry led this massive Allied assault force from southern England to Normandy, France. As H-Hour (6:30) on 6 June approached, the USS Corry was stationed in support of troop landings at Utah Beach. Shortly before operations commenced, the plane assigned to lay a smoke screen to conceal the destroyer was shot down, leaving Corry as the only exposed Allied vessel. At about H minus 15 minutes, enemy fire was concentrated on Corry, resulting in extensive flooding and the loss of all electrical power. The order to abandon ship followed shortly thereafter at about 6:41.

Aerial view of American troops
Aerial view of American troops and landing craft going ashore in the initial minutes of the invasion of Utah Beach on D-Day. Photo by Time Life Pictures/US Army Air Force/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. Time Life Pictures/The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett

Lt. Paul Garay later described the events that followed the order to abandon ship: “As the ship was going down, with water coming up over the main deck, there was a lot to take care of … I happened to come through the wardroom and found the old steaming flag, the work flag. I grabbed it before I went overboard.” In addition to saving the Corry’s flag, Lt. Garay helped a handful of crew members trapped belowdecks escape. After the ship went down, crew members fought to survive in bone-chilling water for over two hours. Tragically, twenty-four men lost their lives that day. Lt. Garay was among the 260 survivors eventually rescued. In recognition of his heroism in combat in saving the lives of four men as the Corry was sinking, Lt. Garay was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in October 1946. To learn more about Lt. Garay’s life and legacy, see “Dad's D-Day shoes,” a moving remembrance from his son, Pete Garay.

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LT. PAUL GARAY.

In the years following the second World War, the flag of the USS Corry has become of symbol of perseverance and object of veneration for its veterans. In June 2002, to mark the 64th anniversary of D-Day, National Geographic published an issue highlighting the “Untold Stories of D-Day” which featured the battle-worn flag on its cover. The sale of this historic object coincides with an important opportunity for remembrance, as 2019 marks the 75thanniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this lot will benefit the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, whose mission is to provide college scholarships and educational counseling to military children who have lost a parent in the line of duty.

Lead Image: American assault troops in a landing craft huddle behind the shield 06 June 1944 approaching Utah Beach while Allied forces are storming the Normandy beaches on D-Day. Photo by STF/AFP/Getty Images.

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