By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, July 18 (Reuters) - Shot through by German machine gun bullets and tattered by the wind, an American flag that flew on the first U.S. invading ship on D-Day is being returned home on Thursday in a White House ceremony.
The flag handover will be a main part of the visit to the White House by Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, who is to have talks with President Donald Trump.
The flag has been owned by retired Dutch businessman and art collector Bert Kreuk, who said he bought it at auction three years ago with the intention of donating it to the United States.
"I cannot keep it myself. It needs to go to the right institution. I need to give it back," Kreuk said in a telephone interview ahead of the ceremony, at which he is to speak.
The plan is for the flag to go to the Smithsonian Institution.
The 48-star flag was on the U.S. Navy's LCC 60, which was one of three advance ships directing troops onto Utah Beach on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944.
The LCC 60 was the only of the three to complete its mission in the chaos of D-Day.
The ship was commanded by the U.S. Navy's Howard Vander Beek, who brought the flag home and kept it in his basement until he died in 2014.
To Kreuk, 54, the flag represented the liberation effort that saved his family from Nazi rule during World War Two. He said he lost family members during a German bombing raid on Rotterdam.
"For me it was evidence that I wanted to have this and secure it for the future," he said.
Trump attended ceremonies in Normandy on June 6 marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Dan Grebler)