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Observations on the WWII Flags of the Rungee Flag Collection

By Jim Ferrigan

Dr. Clarence Rungee, of New Haven, Connecticut, began collecting flags during WWII and continued until his death in 1971. Although his collection of over 600 flags was not limited to military and naval flags, they are perhaps the most interesting in the collection because they are silent witnesses to the greatest event in world history, World War II.

Rungee, himself a veteran and active in Veteran's affairs, served as the Surgeon General of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He used his many connections to correspond with military and naval officers asking for significant flags associated with events, vessels, or individuals. For Rungee however, it could not be just, "Any old flag... It has to be a flag with some historical importance attached to it."

The results you see here, well over 100 used flags from units and vessels that were participants in WWII. These are not ceremonial or commemorative flags, but rather flags that were used on the vessels or carried by these units. In every case their condition betrays their use. In some cases, the flags were actually spared from destruction by Rungee's request.

This begs the question, "How do we know these are real?" The answer is threefold:

An example of just how well-placed Dr. Rungee was to ask for and acquire these flags is no less than Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, who hosted Dr. Rungee at the 1946 observation of the signing of the instrument of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri. It seems likely that at some point Dr. Rungee had Admiral Nimitz's imprimatur.

Dr. Rungee acquired flags from ships and units associated with some of the most momentous events of WWII. It cannot be said with any certainty that any specific flag was at any event, only that it came from a ship or unit that was. Whether ragged or resplendent, the Rungee flags represent the largest collection of vexillological material culture for WWII still in private hands.

James Ferrigan is one of the country's leading vexillogical historians. Since 1984 he has published numerous articles in scholarly journals and made presentations to a wide range of conferences and symposiums on the subject. He has served as vice president of the American Vexillogical Association, and since 1997 has been the Protocol Officer for that organization. James Ferrigan consults actively for institutional collections and prominent private collectors, and advised the Smithsonian Institution on conservation of the Star Spangled Banner. He is widely regarded as the foremost expert on the use and history of flags during World War II.

Annotated history of Rungee and his museum

Dr. Clarence R. Rungee (pronounced Rungy, with a hard g) was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1888.  He attended Temple University in Philadelphia and received an M.D. degree there, later working as a pharmacist and hospital director.  He was active in Republican politics in New Haven for many years, and served on the city's Board of Aldermen.  As a veteran of World War I, Dr. Rungee acted as National Surgeon General of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and was National Historian of the Veterans of World War I.

When he died in 1971, Dr. Rungee had one of the most extensive and unusual private collections of flags anywhere.  He had obtained more than 600 flags from all parts of the world and from such famous people as General Dwight Eisenhower, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, President Syngman Rhee of South Korea, and President Chaim Weizmann of Israel.  In addition to the flags, Dr. Rungee's private museum included hundreds of autographed photographs of distinguished people.  He displayed his flags in many lectures he delivered during the years 1947-1971.  After Dr. Rungee's death his widow, Antoinette Rungee, donated his flags (and copies of many of the autographs) to the Flag Heritage Foundation as the Dr. Clarence R. Rungee Memorial Collection