Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Memories for Sale: Airmen's Belongings Thrown Out

A sad scenario is being played out time and again in the United States these days. As our aging World War Two veterans pass away, the things that they treasured and stored for sixty years are being gone through by children and grandchildren who have no idea what they are dealing with. Unknowing or perhaps uncaring, they are throwing away or selling for practically nothing the treasures of their fathers and grandfathers. What's even sadder is that there are many people out there who make a lot of money going to estate sales and buying this stuff for pennies on the dollar and then selling it for hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the huge military collectors' market on the internet. Just look at eBay sometime and you'll find memories for sale by astute estate-sale shoppers who probably never bothered to point out to a grieving child or grandchild that the items they were selling are priceless.

A case in point. About ten or twelve years ago, I was shopping in the Salvation Army thrift store here in Idaho Falls, when there before me was an absolutely unblemished Eighth Air Force airman's uniform, complete with jacket, wool shirt, and trousers. Its original owner was a sergeant in the Eighth, stationed in England, and had the overseas bars to prove it. His name was Newcomb. This pristine uniform was stored for fifty years and then presumably thrown in with the other clothes after the passing of this veteran. I've never been able to trace him or his family. This entire 8th Army Air Corps uniform--coat, patches, shirt with patches, and trousers, cost five dollars.

These items belong in museums, not in the hands of collectors. I use my items frequently for teaching and display. When I can no longer use them to teach about the air war, they will go to a museum, but they will never be sold to collectors. These items are priceless.

If you have a veteran relative, make sure that arrangements are made to keep their treasures in the family or get them to someone who will use them for education and public display.


Les said...

Rob, I'm glad that Salvation Army find made it into your hands. What a find!

Aside from the stories themselves, my fascination about the history of the men my grandfather served with comes from his OWN fascination. Even as Alzheimer's pulled him away, he said about his WWII memorabilia: "This is very important!"

Don't worry Grampa, It's in safe hands...

r morris said...

He was very blessed to have you. I feelbad for the vets whose kids simply don't get 'what the big deal is'.