Always a Marine: Reuniting history with a collectible uniform
My favorite antiques and collectibles tell a story. It’s been my experience that unearthing the story is more rewarding than the challenge of obtaining the item. My most recent “story” began at the Hastings, Nebraska military collectibles show in March 2008. I had just set up my dealer table and started walking the floor to see what other dealers brought to sell. A fellow Omaha dealer was loading a garment rack with several US WWII uniforms, so I walked over to take a look.
My eyes were drawn to a green wool USMC blouse and trousers with a 6th Marine Division patch, corporal chevrons, an honorable discharge patch, and matching EGA (Eagle, Globe, and Anchor) collar devices. I looked inside the blouse to discover an unusual name penned inside the shoulder (where size and date are marked on WWII USMC uniforms). The dealer had no information about the veteran, nor did he recall how he acquired the uniform, but he was sure it was a local find.
We agreed on a price, and I walked away with the uniform and a gut feeling that I was going to find information about this soldier. When I returned from the show, I began my research and quickly discovered the veteran was born in Grinnell, Iowa and had attended college at Grinnell University. After college, he entered the Marines and later became an editorial writer for the Omaha World Herald newspaper.
I was on a roll! Further research revealed that he and his wife were living in a retirement community a few miles from my home and his children published a book in 2000 containing a large selection of their father’s World Herald editorials. The book was available at Amazon.com and the first chapter exclusively detailed his experiences as a Scout with H Company, 29th Marines, 6th Division during WWII. Before attempting to contact the veteran, I ordered a copy of his book and read every passage about his experiences being a Marine.
One story that is difficult to forget addresses the randomness of death and injury in combat. It explains how the veteran earned his Purple Heart Medal for a gunshot wound, while simultaneously losing a fellow Marine who had been lying beside him. The two Marines were ahead of their platoon scouting enemy movement on Sugar Loaf Hill (located on the island of Okinawa), when a Japanese machine gun crew flanked them and opened fire on their position. Had the Japanese flanked from the opposite direction fate may have reversed the outcome of these men.
After reading the book, I decided to call the veteran and our conversation went well. He was intrigued that I took the time to find him. After explaining my methodologies in locating him he proclaimed that, “I knew his whole life story.” With a laugh I replied, “That’s what happens when you publish a book about yourself!”
I asked about this uniform and apparently it was sold when he and his wife liquidated their house to move into a smaller apartment. After a nice talk over the phone, we agreed to meet in person. He was kind enough to offer me a copy of his discharge papers, military photos, as well as other ephemera from his days as a Marine to put with the uniform. I listened as he talked about Marine life, his career as a writer, and his family. Being the first generation in my family to finish college, I was amazed to hear the veteran’s father and grandfather had also graduated from college.
As I prepared to leave, I pulled my copy of his book from my bag and asked if he wouldn’t mind signing it. He smiled and wrote inside the cover, “To Chris: Best Wishes & Semper Fi!!” I thanked him for the sacrifices he made for our country and for taking the time to share his experiences with me. I am deeply honored to be the caretaker of his uniform and his stories.
Chris Hughes is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in 20th century militaria and the owner of Rally Point Militaria and Vietnam Uniform – Military Collectibles sites.