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By Terri Moon Cronk, U.S. Department of Defense
Seventy-five years ago, the U.S. landing craft Control 60 helped to carry the first waves of U.S. service members as they landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on what has become known as D-Day. The American flag from that ship is bound for the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History, thanks to two men from the Netherlands who bought it at auction to present it to the American people in gratitude.
President Donald J. Trump hosted Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands at a White House ceremony, and Vice President Mike Pence and Acting Defense Secretary Richard V. Spencer were in attendance, along with three World War II veterans.
Veterans Jack Goldstein, Steven Melnikoff and Harold Angle fought at Normandy and then went on to the Netherlands to fight again, Trump noted.
"Last month, [First Lady Melania Trump] and I traveled to the United Kingdom and France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day," the president said. "Together, we paid tribute to every courageous patriot who fought to liberate Europe from the evil of Nazi rule."
Trump said he would accept the flag on behalf of the American people. He called that day 75 years ago momentous and "one of the most powerful, most important days in the history of our world."
"It is my honor to welcome this great American flag back home where it belongs," he said.
On June 6, 1944, the flag flew aboard the landing craft Control 60. Commanding the ship was a young Navy lieutenant, Howard Vander Beek, who was two days shy of his 27th birthday, Trump said.
"Amid treacherous German minefields, raging winds and rough seas, Lt. Vander Beek and his crew led an astonishing 19 waves of American troops and equipment to those very dangerous beaches," the president recounted. "Through it all, this flag soared proudly above the waters of the English Channel, announcing the arrival of our American warriors."
After completing his mission on D-Day, Vander Beek took the flag — by then bearing the scars of German machine-gun fire and stains from dirt, diesel fuel and blood — and carried it with him in his backpack for the remainder of the war. He kept the flag until his death in 2014, Trump said.
"Soon after, the flag was purchased at auction by Mr. Kreuk and Mr. Schols, whose relatives were among the hundreds of Dutch who perished in the German bombings of Rotterdam in 1940," the president said. "These two gentlemen paid half a million dollars to obtain the flag, just so they could return it as a gift to the American people and to the United States of America."
The two donors wanted to thank the United States for the extraordinary sacrifice U.S. service members made to liberate their nation and all of Europe in World War II, Trump said.
"Thousands of Americans gave their lives on D-Day, and many thousands more gave their lives to drive the Nazis from the Netherlands," he added.
"[This] wonderful flag will be preserved forever and ever in American history, as it should be. It will always be a reminder of the supreme sacrifice of our warriors, and the beautiful friendship between the Dutch and the American people," Trump said.