NAVY LT. HOWARD VANDER BEEK GUIDED AMERICAN LANDINGS ONTO UTAH BEACH IN 1944
Howard Vander Beek was often asked about the 19 waves of troops and equipment he led to shore on June 6, 1944. Over the decades, details had faded. What always remained clear was the scope of the largest invasion fleet in human history. “The immensity of it,” he told the Waterloo (Iowa) Courier in 2009. “The unreality of the reality. I couldn’t believe I was really there.”
After the war, Vander Beek kept the U.S. flag that flew on the Landing Control Craft (LCC) he commanded as a U.S. Navy lieutenant the day Allied forces invaded France on D-Day. Look closely and you’ll see one symmetrical hole on the blue field of the 48-star flag.
“That’s a hole where a bullet went through,” Vander Beek said.
Vander Beek, who lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa, passed away in 2014. He was 97. His U.S. flag is featured in Heritage’s Arms, Militaria and Civil War auction scheduled for June 12, 2016, in Dallas. It’s expected to realize at least $100,000.
Vander Beek’s story is featured in John C. McManus’ book The Americans at D-Day: The American Experience at the Normandy Invasion and in D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose.
“Three boats were supposed to lead the first wave of the amphibious assault on Utah Beach, which was the first landing of D-Day,” says Heritage Auctions historical specialist Marsha Dixey. “Two others were disabled so Howard’s boat, the LCC 60, took the mission solo. In short, there was nothing but water, beach and the German army ahead of this flag, and the entire Allied armada behind it.”
While in secret briefings and studying the shoreline at his planned landing, Vander Beek met and befriended Gen. Teddy Roosevelt Jr., the son of President Theodore Roosevelt who led the first wave of troops at Utah Beach.
Vander Beek’s boat famously led the assault to the wrong landing point due to heavy smoke, but this ended up being an incredible bit of luck, as German entrenchments at the planned landing spot were not disabled by the bombing prior to the amphibious assault. Thus Roosevelt was inspired to deliver the most famous quotation of the D-Day invasion as he landed and realized the error:
“We’ll start the war from right here!”
Despite his leadership on D-Day, Vander Beek always maintained he was not a war hero.
“I was just such a small part of it,” he told the Waterloo Courier. “There were so many giving up their lives. Those are the true heroes.”