Lot 1266

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A most interesting and personal pair of relics, including an important tattered and diesel smoke-stained 48-star American flag flown from LCT-767 at Omaha Beach when she arrived three hours after the initial landings, and presumably during her five-month stay there ferrying men and material to shore. The 48-star flag measures 28 x 56 in., of multi-piece cotton and canvas construction. It is marked ‘NAT EN 3 11' along the hoist and bears steel grommets for suspension, with one of the four missing. The far edge shows tattering consistent with exposure to high winds, and the flag is overall quite dirtied and worn. This historic flag is accompanied by a pair of large, lacy underwear once owned (and presumably worn!) by British actress GERTRUDE LAWRENCE (1898-1952), an idol of the interwar generation, known for her stage performances in London and New York. The underwear and flag are part of the collection of Ensign James W. Wray, Jr. (1922-2005) who entered the service as a naval officer in 1943, thence commanded the U.S. Landing Craft Tank (Mark 6) 767. LCT 767 was built in Leavenworth, Kansas, launched on Jan. 1, 1944, and served in the Europe-Africa-Middle East Theater, earning one battle star. She landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, three hours after the ‘H' hour, and then stayed there as a ‘lighter' loading and unloading vehicles and troops from larger vessels offshore – initially some 25 vehicles and 200 troops, according to Wray's recollection. She remained at Omaha until November, 1944, when the weather no longer permitted the ship to operate off the beach, and she was decommissioned in 1946. LCT 767 was Wray's ONLY command during World War II, thus this flag could only have come from that vessel. It was retained within his family since the end of the war and is consigned to us directly by his daughter to whom he often described the flag's history. Wray later was a professor of law at Baylor University, served as President of the Corpus Christi Bar Association, State Bar Director for District 11; Director of the Texas Association of Defense Counsel; Texas State Chairman for the American College of Trial Lawyers, and was Chairman of the Ethics Section of the State Bar of Texas - all positions requiring the utmost truthfulness and integrity. In several of Wray's letters (included) Wray also recalls the crew's encounter in France with Gertrude Lawrence when she performed on Aug. 18, 1944. He begins to describe this memorable incident in a letter to his parents, Aug. 18, 1944: ‘…We went alongside a British L.S.T. this afternoon…It was carrying E.N.S.A…to our U.S.O. entertainment. Gertrude Lawrence, the British (& Broadway) musical comedy star was aboard. None of us knew her from Adam, but it turned out that the jolly & attractive (no spring chicken, but young enough to attract whistles from the U.S. sailors) [and] struck up conversation…She borrowed a bathing suit from one of my men and dug up a top piece somewhere [and] went in swimming with the boys off the bow of the L.S.T. She was going to come aboard our ship and sing us some songs but we had to shove off, a sad occasion. She still has my Mo. M. M.'s [motor machinist's mate] swimming trunks…From what I know…she is a great trooper & and I know this afternoon's swimming party was helpful to the crew's morale…'. Wray continues to write about the unforgettable encounter in a letter dated Nov. 4, [1944]: ‘…One of my boys got a clipping from a Baltimore paper. It was an interview with Gertrude Lawrence and she told about going in swimming in France with the crew of the landing craft. I guess you know who she meant. She also told about borrowing one of the boys' bathing trunks but she didn't mention that she never returned them…'… On Dec. 15, 1944, Wray again writes about the incident and that he is ‘…anxiously awaiting the Life Magazine telling about Gertrude Lawrence…'. Indeed, Wray himself leaked the story to Life, and it was published in the overseas edition on Feb. 12, 1945 (clipping included). In it, Wray recounts the incident and quips: ‘…We hope Miss Lawrence didn't jettison those trunks during her tour in France, as we would like to have them back – to suspend from the yard arm In Memorium…'. Another clipping from an unidentified source included in the lot quotes Lawrence herself. She recalls: ‘…Some of the crew went over the side to swim, and I wanted to. Perhaps I looked wistful, because the U.S. LCT (6) 767…called across the water ‘Say, sister, why don't you go in?' ‘I would,' I called back, ‘If I had some trunks.' ‘We'll fix you up…'…Several pairs of hands were laid on a huge sailor…the trunks, decided outsize, were tossed to our deck…Zoe supplied a bra…I was safely pinned into it, a cap was produced from somewhere, and to the delighted shrieks of our ENSA members I was pushed forward to the rail…It was glorious…The trunks were jettisoned, of course. Instead of them, I sent off to the crew of the U.S. LCT (6) 767 a pair of my own lace-trimmed panties with the message ‘Keep ‘em flying until I can fill ‘em'. Indeed, the panties bear this exact message, which Lawrence penned in black ink across one leg: ‘To Ensign J. W. Wray, Jr. and the boys of the L.C.T. (6) 767. Keep ‘em flying until I can fill ‘em! Bless you all Gertrude Lawrence 1944/1945'. It is unclear whether the crew actually ‘flew' the panties along with the flag, though we suspect there may have been Navy regulations prohibiting such a ‘display'! The panties, Life Magazine quote and other clipping are all presented on a board measuring 30 x 20.5 in., together with a 6 x 4 in. black metal christening sign from the vessel reading: ‘U.S. L.C.T. (6) 767 Built by the Mo. Valley Bridge & Iron Co. Leavenworth, Kan. 1944'. This fantastic lot also includes a letter of provenance from Wray's daughter (our consignor), photocopies of many more letters by Wray, and additional information concerning the vessel and Wray's distinguished career.

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April 26, 2024 10:00 AM EDT
Chesapeake City, MD, US

Alexander Historical Auctions LLC

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