12 May 2014

Looking for a lost heirloom

"The Longest Day" (1962), based on the novel by Cornelius Ryan, is a star-studded, megabudget production about the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, also known as D-Day. In July 1961, when preparations for the film had just started, producer Darryl F. Zanuck received a letter from Francis McKernon, a radio technician who had served aboard the USS Corry, the destroyer that led the Normandy invasion. Apparently a family heirloom that belonged to McKernon had remained aboard the ship after it sank on D-Day. McKernon was desperate to retrieve the heirloom, and in the following letter he asks Zanuck for information on its whereabouts.

Left photo: Francis McKernon; right photo: producer Darryl Zanuck and Robert Mitchum during filming of "The Longest Day".

Source: uss corry dd 463


40 Easy Rudder Lane 
West Haven, Connecticut
July 23, 1961

Mr. Darryl Zanuck
20th Century-Fox Studios
Hollywood, California

Dear Mr.Zanuck:

Today's New York Sunday News informs me you are preparing work on "The Longest Day", by Cornelius Ryan. My family will be first in line to see the complete production. We have a deep personal interest, because I was Chief Technician on the Destroyer Corry, which Mr. Ryan mentions so vividly in his story of D-Day. Judging by the preliminary work you are doing, we know it will be one of the greatest productions of your organization.

However, Mr. Zanuck, I have a secondary reason for writing to you about your activities. It all centers about my mother's teapot, a silver-pewter English design family heirloom, which still lies in the Chief's galley up forward on the Corry. I've never been able to go back to retrieve it. Neither have I been able to obtain information about any salvage work permitted in the area. Perhaps, because of the great research you have had done in preparing for the settings, you may know whether any diving has been permitted in the Utah beach area. I'd really strain the family budget to get that teapot back. Some skindiver might be eager to go through the two hatches and pick it up, unless it is forbidden by authorities.

To be quite frank, I need the pot. My kids and friends are beginning to doubt my veracity when I spin yarns about the campaigns the teapot has been through, plus the fact that my sainted old mother told me not to dare come back home without it. She died on Memorial Day of 1949, but the family still remembers how I had to incur her Boston Irish wrath when I returned home as a survivor in 1944. 

Any information that will help me will be appreciated. As the six kids get older, they think the old man is just an accomplished sea-going bullthrower.

Best of luck on the new production. We will be awaiting its arrival in New York or New Haven.

Very truly yours

NoteDarryl Zanuck forwarded the letter to author Cornelius Ryan, who sent a letter to McKernon on Zanuck's behalf. In any case, neither of them could help McKernon retrieve the teapot. The wreckage of the Corry was dynamited after it had sunk, and what remained of the hull was later sold to a salvage firm. What happened to the teapot is unknown.

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