Without question June 6, 1944 is the most celebrated day of World War II. On that day nearly 160,000 Allied troops simultaneous landed on five separate beachheads along a 50 mile stretch of heavily fortified coastline in Normandy, France. At the day’s conclusion the Allies gained a foothold in continental Europe, and the arduous drive to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation had begun. Rock Island Auction Company is honored and proud to offer an American flag flown during the invasion of Normandy on the USS LCI(L)-421 at Gold Beach. This is a documented piece of American military history that symbolizes the heroic efforts and sacrifices of American fighting forces participating in one of the largest amphibious assaults in world history, often considered the most crucial Allied victory of World War II. “They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate,” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the nation in a prayer read over the radio on the night of June 6, 1944. Gold Beach was in the middle of the five D-Day landings. After fierce German resistance, British and Canadian forces were able to move inland to capture the village of Arromanches, the future site of an artificial harbor constructed by the Allies for offloading supplies. Our story begins midday on June 6, 1944, when the 264th Royal Canadian Flotilla transported the follow-up infantry battalion of 56th (Independent) Infantry Brigade to the D-Day landing on Gold Beach. Along the way, mortar fire was encountered, resulting in two casualties. Once on the beach, the men of the 56th contended with deep water, dangerous submerged shell holes and enemy fire. The flotilla included three Landing Craft Infantry (Large), or LCI(L), amphibious assault ships numbers 400, 421 and 511 attached to the U.S. Navy. A LCI(L) was capable of transporting 200 soldiers directly onto the beach, and this flag flew from the mast of the LCI(L)-421 on that historic day. The flag was from the personal belongings of Steve Hudac, the coxswain of LCI(L)-421 who piloted the landing craft onto Gold Beach. We will allow Hudac’s sister-in-law to explain in her own words how Steve obtained the flag: “Steve was the Coxswain of LCI(L)-421 on D-Day and piloted the landing craft onto Gold Beach. Steve told me that during the landing, he was watching soldiers being killed and wondered when it would be his turn…He was later promoted to head cook. One evening, Steve was in the kitchen late in the evening cooking potato pancakes. His commanding officer smelled them and went into the galley. Steve feared that he would be in trouble because he wasn’t supposed to be there but explained that he missed food from his native homeland. His commanding officer asked him to make some for him and asked if he could make them for all the others as well…Steve became very close to his commanding officer, Robert M. Paul, after this. Before Steve left the ship, his commanding officer gave him the flag from LCI(L)-421 that flew from the mast during their time on it, including the landing on Gold Beach.” (Quoted from the included May 11, 2017, dated notarized statement by Marcia Chovanec, sister-in-law to Steve Hudac.) After Steve passed away in 1996, ownership of the flag transferred to Marcia and her husband. The 48-star American flag measures approximately 45 inches x 49 inches. The flag comes with the halyard. Hudac’s included U.S. Navy discharge papers clearly list him as a coxswain and having served on the USS LCI(G)-421. Note that LCI(L)-421 was reclassified as a Landing Craft Infantry (Guns) in July 1945. Hudac’s date of separation from the Navy is October 28, 1945. Confirmation of Hudac’s participation in the Normandy invasion is provided by an accompanying June 8, 1944 dated memo from his commanding officer, Lt (JG) Robert M. Paul, USNR, which states that Hudac “partook in the invasion of France on D day, June 6, 1944 and are entitled to wear whatever decoration are thereby authorized.” Hudac’s service record also confirmed in an August 1945 dated letter of recommendation written by Lt. Paul. Other documents from this outstanding personal wartime archive include paper ephemera related to Hudac’s religious beliefs, war rations and enlistment. A photo scrapbook documents his time in the Navy. Note that the photos are of comrades and ports of call, and appears to exhibit at least one photograph of Normandy after the invasion. Other photographs include an 8 inch x 10 inch self portrait of Hudac wearing his “crackerjack” uniform and the January 18, 1944 Great Lakes Naval Station graduating class. Other accompanying Hudac’s personal mementos: a USN whistle, a St. Christopher’s medallion, USN dog tags, two cloth ruptured ducks, a cloth petty officer second class (ship’s baker) ratings badge, two sweetheart type charms attached to a Naval Amphibious Forces patch, a USN enlisted cover (“Dixie cup”) marked with Hudac’s name and a framed illustration of LCI(L)-421 landing on Gold Beach.
This historic piece of extraordinary World War II history is in the condition one would expect from a flag flown on a naval vessel that is now over 70 years old: tattered ends caused by high winds and discoloration. This flag has withstood the battlefield and the test of time. It is a physical link to that momentous day in June on the French coastline where Allied forces began to push back Nazi tyranny. Our only wish is that this Normandy invasion flag will receive the same special place of honor that Steve Hudac had for it. A true national treasure!
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