Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Veterans Day visit with the last Doughboy, Frank Buckles

Today I was able to take this old veteran of the trenches of the Great War, my 32nd Division M.1917, and go down the valley and across the river to visit Mr. Frank Buckles, America's sole surviving veteran of The Great War.

The helmet brought back memories of Mr. Buckles 11 months "over there".

(photo: David DeJonge)                          

to see a glimpse of the visit click here.

A hale and hearty Frank Buckles in 1917.   Today, at 108 years of age Mr. Buckles is a delightful person and a gracious host.  It was a real pleasure to visit him, and such a surprise to find that he lives only 25 minutes from my door!

 Following Armistice Day, Mr. Buckles enjoyed a prosperous career working for various steamship lines and in that capacity ended up in the Philippines in 1941.  Although no longer a fighting man, Mr. Buckles was imprisioned by the Japanese and held, under grueling conditions, until his rescue in 1945 by those doughboys of a later generation, the American G.I.s

Happy Veterans Day Mr. Buckles!

To learn more about Mr. Buckles and the World War One Memorial restoration efforts, link here

Saturday, October 3, 2009

2009 MAX Show

Bring Money!

I went to the 2009 Military Antiques Extravaganza in Monroeville Pennsylvania this weekend.

Goodness! Extravaganza is right. What a show.

Comprised of mostly top-of-the line objects with few fakes, most notably the one below:

WWII German lid with a post-war liner. An oddly obvious attempt at subterfuge at such a prestigious show (and dig that crazy chinstrap bail).

The organizers of this show strive for authenticity of objects and they seem to do a pretty good job of policing their dealers. About the only thing bogus at this show were the prices. Generally unrealistic asking prices seemed to be the order of the day, flying in the face of not only the current economy but also the realities of ebay. Obviously this show's for the hoity-toity, not for the hoi-polloi such as I.

It is Nazi heavy in artifacts. I saw but one South American helmet, a Peruvian Adrian, and there were no Scandinavian, Asian, or Cold War Eastern Bloc helmets to be found. Anyone hoping to score modern ballistic plastic and composite helmets would have similarly found themselves out of luck.

Helmet-wise this show consisted of, in ascending order, WWII Russian, Japanese, Picklehauben, U.S. M1s, and Nazi German lids. I was in a sea of swastikas, to the point of creepiness.

Interestingly enough I saw almost no money changing hands, at least not on Saturday. Perhaps this was a reflection of general economic hard times, or simply the unrealistic asking prices on most of the items. Leaving me to wonder exactly who the target clientele was supposed to be:
deep-pocketed bunker decorators? rubes? overeager monied beginners? neo-nazis? Mel Brooks? (click the link, you'll be glad you did)

Crazy daddy-o!

Nonetheless it was worth seeing... once.

You can watch my low-resolution video below, thus saving a trip to Monroeville (you'll thank me for that).

Keep your sense of humor and keep on collecting!


Monday, September 21, 2009

From Before the time of Modern Helmets

Here's a video I put together of a remarkable event that I attended one week ago. It's a short reminder of service, sacrifice, and the dignity we can bring to remembrance.

Go here to view.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

German M.1916 "high visor"

Never pass up a dumpster.

Here's the sort of story we all hope to be involved in personally.

First, the helmet. New to my collection is this very nice WWI German M.1916

A fine specimen of that most iconic of early 29th century lids.

Although sans liner, the gray/green paint is about 90% present.

That dramatic Teutonic profile always makes me just a touch uneasy.

With a pleasing patina, this helmet seems to have been, until recently, treated very well,

until it was quite unceremoniously pitched into a dumpster and headed for a Western Maryland landfill.

Then, this young man came along to change the outcome of the story.

This is my friend Jim. Jim is a motorhead in the best sense of the word. He has a passion for, and is very handy with, automobiles. With the budgetary constraints of most 18 year-olds with sensible parents, Jim has to use creative - though legal - means to acquire usable spare parts for whatever vehicle he's currently working on. Those means include occasional "dumpster diving".

Jim was diving a dumpster that was shared by an auto repair shop as well as an antique store. Imagine young Jim's surprise when he emerged from said dumpster not with an exhaust manifold, fan shroud, or hood strut, but this very nice old soldier from the trenches of WWI.

And imagine my surprise when this fine young man recently gave it to me to add to my collection!

Acquired just two weeks ago this lid may turn out to be a favorite. I already have a nice garden-variety M.1917 which, unlike this one, still has most of its liner (check it out here). Otherwise the two helmets are nearly identical.

The dome stamp "R440" is quite crisp and the intact paint is shown here to good effect.

Though no liner or chinstrap are present, there is still a single strap fastener end.

The characteristic lugs are quite crisp with nice squared, sharply defined edges...

and are still very tightly secured with a large washer on the inside of the shell.

All split rivets are present...

and in very good condition.

As my M.1917 this is size E.T. 64, visible here on the side skirt and...

as a ghost image, here on the exterior. Some stamping mill!

All in all a delightful piece, though no standout until I set it on a level surface facing my M.1917:

voila! The storied "high-visor" early production version of the M.1916.

Thanks Jim, for bringing something new, and special, to my collection.

And thanks Olaf for the comment below which prompted me to view this lid as an M.1916 rather than an M.1917!

Friday, July 31, 2009

M1917-A1 Every dog has its day

Sometimes even a stop-gap like the M1917-A1 can have its day in the sun.

The penny-pinching War Department, whilst searching for a suitable replacement for the WW1 M-1917, had, by 1936, issued a field modification for that helmet consisting of a new liner, suspension, and chinstrap, designated the M1917-A1.

For a nation plunged into a war it was all but unprepared for, the M1917-A1 was a slightly improved incarnation of the helmet worn by GI's doughboy fathers, the M1917. With a vastly improved liner and chinstrap, this "tin derby" was nonetheless obsolete as the first bombs were falling on Pearl Harbor and was nothing more than a stopgap until the M1 helmet could reach full production.

Though originally merely an upgrade of the M1917, in 1940 nearly a million new M1917 style shells with the 1936 liners were produced and issued to the troops in all branches. Otherwise the troops were using the upgraded lids from WW1.

During America's darkest days in World War Two the M1917-A1 was the helmet used by US forces. Morale boosting movies like "Wake Island" and "Bataan" Featured big names like Brian Donlevey, Robert Preston, and Robert Taylor, with strong supporting roles provided by the M1917-A1.

(The lighting was always so perfect in the Pacific theater)

However, one didn't need to look to Hollywood for inspiration. Real heroes in M1917-A1s were out there fighting and winning. These sailors of the USS Ward pose for cameras after sinking a Japanese mini sub during the Pearl Harbor attack.

Courage alone, however was not going to stop the inevitable.

An American GI and his Phillippine counterpart, armed for bear and sporting the M1917-A1, will be eventually succumb to Japanese gunfire, disease, and near starvation.

Sadly their efforts to hold the line against the Japanese juggernaut in the Pacific ended at best like this:

Or at worst, as the victims of their captors' barbarity. These were the days when the Japanese routinely hacked prisoners to death, a practice they now reserve for dolphins.

These two Depression-era infantrymen undergoing basic training before the war are training with the weapons and helmets of an earlier war. Military preparedness was eschewed by the peace-time populace, and the country was caught flat-footed when the shooting began.

Here, then is an old soldier in my collection, in issued, though outstanding, condition.

The shell is that of the M1917. No big surprises there. The difference is revealed when one looks under the lid...

and beholds this effective, and elegant suspension and liner, a marvel of steel, leather, and canvas webbing.

The top view demonstrates the new Olive Drab color that became standard for U.S. ground forces.

The handsome blackened nut secures the suspension to the shell. The sawdust-textured paint is also shown to good effect in this picture.

The number is a reminder of a much tinier U.S. military, the pre-war forces, when materiel was a precious and limited commodity, always to be inventoried, accounted for, and returned to the proper hook, slot, or rack.

The rim is joined more in the British-style rather than the American that characterized the WWI versions of this lid.

Close-up of simple, though, vast improvements over the old M1917. The bail affixed to the shell has the same function as that of the M1917 in that the chinstrap merely passes through it rather than attaches to it, but we get our first hint of the engineering and materials that will make this suspension so superior to it's WWI uncle.

High-grade leather in four leaves comprises the contact area for the wearer's head, depth adjustable with grommets and a leather thong.

The liner is suspended on steel bands which are lightweight but sturdy, unlike the fragile single leather strap that the entire chinstrap and liner of the M1917 depended upon. In the very dome is a padded leather pillow. This is a very comfortable, effective, and adjustable liner, providing excellent padding and the crucial spacing between the shell of the helmet and the head of the wearer.

This nice, crisp ordnance marking resides under the front leaf of the liner.

The high quality of the materials and manufacture is evident in this view.

Untying the crown pad reveals another ordnance stamp as well as the intersection of the steel supension bands and the securing screw.

As one examines the fine leather work of this liner the expense becomes apparent.

This marking, the number 20, is the only stamping I've found on the shell.

The attractive blackened brass "hook and arrow" fastener will survive this model helmet and campaign on with the M1.

As in its pre-war days, this helmet has a number once again, though this time it's for purposes of cataloging and curating.

And when is a curator a bad role model?

... when he can't resist trying things on, that's when!

See you next time with another helmet from the collection, until then, comments, questions, and corrections are always welcomed.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

The new helmet gallery

A formerly underutilized room has been, over the past four days, transformed into...

my American helmet gallery.

Helmets from other nations still reside in the next room as they have for about a year now. At this point all but three of my 152 helmets are out on display.

I hope, in this new space, to produce another helmet Youtube focusing on the M1 helmet. I'll be sure to post the link to it on this blog. But that, like so many other things, remains in the misty future.

Monday, May 25, 2009

U.S. Navy M1 Radioman Helmet 1974

If helmets could talk...
would we even believe what they had to say?

Here is my U.S.Navy M1 helmet with radioman insignia. It was brought home in my seabag at the end of a four-year hitch in the Navy many (many) years ago.

Unlike other branches of the military, on a Navy ship in the 1960s and 70s one was not issued a helmet, one merely had ready access to a stack of helmets that would be worn during General Quarters or Battle Stations. The Radio compartments that I served in had such stacks, and this is one of those helmets that I may or may not have worn over the course of my time on the ship. This particular helmet is from the destroyer U.S.S. Higbee (DD-806) my last ship I served on, and, consequently, my last opportunity to grab "my" helmet before leaving the ship for the final time in July of 1974.

Many M1s, during the lifetime of their use,  were marked by the sailors who wore them at some point.  The "sparks" of a Radioman's rating badge reference the shower of sparks that were produced by the old open-ocillator telegraph keys of the old days.  By the time I was in Morse code was seldom used anymore but the symbolism remained in our insignia.

These stacks of "ships company" helmets throughout the ship had probably been aboard for the life of the ship, which is why it seemed there were always more helmets than sailors as the crew strength for the Higbee during World War Two was considerably larger that that of 1973-74.  Nonetheless, these old M1s represented (for those of us who were thinking about it) an unbroken line of continuity between us and our shipmates of earlier decades.

The liner of "my" helmet is a war-time Firestone...

as indicated by the distinctive "F" logo in the dome.

The shell itself, typically for USN helmets, is a Schleuter, and the front-joined rim seam indicates WWII production.

The swivel bails have the earlier bar-tacked chinstraps, this one looking pretty "salty".

With the dark gray liner this helmet is nearly complete save for the leather liner chinstrap.

I enjoyed much of my time aboard both of my destroyers mainly because of the great bunch of shipmates I was serving with.  And here is a very short, very true story of those days, which I hope you enjoy.

                                   That's me, bottom row, center

One of my favorite, and funniest, memories of my first ship, the destroyer USS DeHaven (DD-727), comes from a time when things in the Navy were not particularly jolly. The war in Vietnam were winding down for the U.S., the gap between civilians and service members was widening, and there seemed to be a growing hostility between the four-year enlistment sailors and the career men, also known as "the lifers".

This was also a time when drug and alcohol abuse was rampant throughout the services, and the 727 was a microcosm of the Navy and many of its problems in those dreary days. That's the deep background to provide some context for this story.

Some time in 1972 we were tied up, as usual, along piers 17 and 18 out on the mole at Naval Station Long Beach (California). It was a typical duty evening on an in-port weekend.

I was the duty Radioman (RM3c) having a pretty laid-back evening. We didn't have the radio guard so I had little to do but read. I was still a new guy and was having only limited success making friends with guys in other divisions (remember being the "new guy"?).

Along about eight in the evening my boss, and a pretty good guy, the RM1 of the shack came zooming onto the messdecks with a battle lantern ...looking for me.  My boss was the duty Master at Arms (the ship's policeman) that night, resplendent in his new style utilities (those dreadful duds with which they tried to replace the good old dungarees) and his dazzling MAA badge.

"Mannie" he said breathlessly, "come with me". 

Now, I was a sailor who was always ready to oblige a shipmate, so without question or hesitation I followed my RM1 off the messdecks up to the radioshack. "What's up boss?" was my only question. He made a finger to the lips gesture to clue me to pipe down and scowled, and sniffed, at the overhead ventilation duct.

"Do you smell that shit?" he whispered. "That's 'green smoke', and it can only be coming from one place".  A historical note: For some reason, there were those among the senior enlisted who referred to marijuana smoke and the smell thereof as "green smoke". I even met those who insisted that it was called that because the smoke of burning cannabis is emerald green. Obviously, they'd never imbibed themselves.

Back to the story. The RM1 moved his intent gaze to me and repeated "there's only one place that that smell can be coming from. Someone's smoking dope in OUR fanroom!".  There was a fanroom just abaft the radioshack on the starboard side. Accessible only with a stepladder through a scuttle in the overhead, it was a space the RMs referred to as "the void" and it was where we stored our supply of teletype paper and tape. For inspection purposes it was the radio crew's property and responsibility. "Let's go!" hissed the RM1 as he handed me that battle lantern and pushed me out the door of the radio shack ahead of him. Had I been a cartoon character at that moment my word balloon would have said something like "buh, buh, buh...ahhh wait a second".

Off we went into the dark of the night, the RM1 becoming quite impatient with all of the noise I made as I clumsily followed him.  "Quiet! or they'll know we're coming" he whispered. "That's, sort of the whole idea" I thought to myself.

 We made our way to the main deck, me with the lantern and the RM1 armed with a rickety stepladder which he quietly set up beneath the scuttle. "Now get up there and bust those guys" he said to me.  At that time I was choosing to believe it was merely a request rather than an order. "But boss," I protested, "these are guys that I have to live and work with, and I've got no beef with them, cause, y'know..."  It was as if he hadn't heard me, like a fine hunting dog on the point he was intently staring at that overhead scuttle and just as intently pushing me up the ladder.

The "why me?" question was simply one of girth. Without commenting on the robust build of the RM1, I'll just note that at that time in my life my broadest dimension was my post-adolescent Adams apple:

I was the logical choice to go through the scuttle and into the Babylon above. This was to be my show. 

With my head pressed nearly sideways against the overhead as I wrestled with the dog-wheel I could hear indistinct murmuring coming from the space. As the dogs retracted, I slowly swung the hatch down, swallowed hard and poked my head up. The experience was unlike any I've had before or since. If one could stick ones head inside a bong at a frat-party, that might approximate the sensation I had. As my nostrils cleared the coaming of the hatch I became immediately aware of an all too familiar spades!  That was one very smoky space and because it was a fan room, that smoke was being communicated throughout quite a bit of the ship.

"I don't see anybody boss" was my very lame report. "Jeezus! use the lantern!" he shouted (the need for stealth was now past). I craned my head over and squeezed my arm and the battle lantern through. I snapped on the light, the beam of which became a ghostly and thick illumination of smoke. My head poking through the scuttle, eyes only inches above the deck, I slowly played the beam 360 degrees around the space level with my eyes.

That smoky beam revealed fully a dozen pairs of shoes; oxfords, boondockers, flipflops, all attached to pantlegs that extended up into the faceless gloom. The sound was that of breath being held by twelve shipmates caught red-handed (though all I saw was ankles).

"Well?" was the sharp one word question from below. Now, remember, I was a sailor who was always ready to oblige a shipmate, so again, without question or hesitation, and with great presence of mind I gave my report:

"They musta' just left boss.  Nothing up here but teletype paper."

"Dammit!, we shoulda' come quicker!".   Clearly disappointed at losing his quarry, he stomped off into the night looking for other crime to fight, leaving me to secure the void, the ladder, and the lantern.

I returned to the messdecks and my book and business as usual, being the new guy, trying to find my way on a ship where everybody else seemed to be friends with everybody else. Except that it was never business as usual again after that evening.

No sooner had I gotten settled in and resumed reading, than a mix of snipes and deck division types slid in next to me and one piped up: "So Gentile, you just got off Guam eh? Whatcha readin'?". And a lively, breezy bull-session began, of which I was a full partner. Eventually every one trailed off to hit the rack or relieve the watch. I realized that my status as the new guy was coming to a welcome end.

"What a great bunch of guys" I thought, "a great bunch of bleary-eyed guys who smell like they've been fighting a brush fire".

And the rest was pretty smooth sailing.

accession number: MOAharm 195.v2
United States Navy M1 Helmet (Radioman)
Acquired 1974, USS Higbee (DD-806) Long Beach, California
Condition: good