Family pays $11K for flag shredded by Florence to honor NC man. He died not knowing

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The identity of the bidder who paid $10,900 Sunday for a U.S. flag famously ripped apart by Hurricane Florence’s 100 mph wind gusts was not released by eBay.

But the seller, Richard Neal, says the new owner is an Ohio family in the produce business, and they bought the flag in honor of a man who died from cancer Sunday in Charlotte.

That man was 64-year-old Kevin Caruso.

His brother, Mike Caruso of Cincinnati, says the family was motivated by the tattered flag’s ordeal during the hurricane. It also helped, he says, that the flag was coincidentally nicknamed Kevin by its many fans, including its own Twitter account under the name Kevin The Flag.

“My brother lived his life like that flag in the storm, being courageous with chaos all around, never giving up,” Mike Caruso said in an interview with the Charlotte Observer. “He and that flag were at the center of a great storm, staying calm, standing firm. People kept asking through the storm: ‘Is Kevin still there?’ And it was always still there, still standing.”

The flag earned a national reputation while flying 34 miles off the coast of North Carolina on the Frying Pan Tower, a former U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse that is now a bed and breakfast inn.

A live cam was set up at the tower to capture images of the storm, and viewers of the Weather Channel and countless other media outlets couldn’t help but notice the flag being whipped mercilessly by the wind.

Frying Pan Tower owner Richard Neal told McClatchy reporter Matt Martinez that images of the ripped flag refusing to let go of the pole came to represent the nation’s resilience: “We get beat up, battered during hard times, but we stay up, stay at it through the storm,” he told Martinez.

Neal, who lives in Charlotte, set up the flag auction with all proceeds from the sale going to the American Red Cross, which is another reason the Caruso family felt compelled to go so high with its bidding.

Kevin Caruso moved to the Carolinas 20 years ago and spent 12 years living in Hilton Head, South Carolina, where he endured the impact of multiple hurricanes, said Mike Caruso. He moved to Charlotte around 2010 for business reasons, working in the insurance industry, said Caruso.

Kevin Caruso was living in south Charlotte’s Waverly community when he died Sunday morning, Mike Caruso said. He never knew of the family’s intention to bid on the flag in his honor, Caruso said.

The family has not finalized funeral arrangements, Mike Caruso said, but was considering bringing Kevin Caruso back to Cincinnati for burial. The family has operated a produce transportation business, Caruso Logistics, in the city for more than 85 years, he said.

Mike Caruso said they intend to keep the flag in Ohio, unless a museum in the Carolinas shows an interest.

“We’re thrilled to have it and our plans are to put it in a real nice box, framed and mounted with respect and honor,” Caruso said. “And we’ll have a plaque that will reflect exactly what the flag stands for and honor Kevin for all the same reasons.”

Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs