FRAYED CUFFS & DENTED STEEL
There is something about an object actually worn, carried, or used in combat that brings a closer connection with that event or conflict and in a way, it can be mesmerizing to hold something that was really "over there." Something that still has a certain odor to, stained with dirt and oil and has dirt and grime in all of the cracks and hard to clean places. These objects differ from many others as you know there is a story - many stories - to fill its history, but many will remain unknown.
Documented combat worn items do exist, but are rare on account of them being completely utilitarian and really of no value beyond clothing or equipment. Anyone serving typically did not have foresight to save a grimy piece of gear thinking some collector would treasure it one day. Instead these things were usually worn out to the point of falling to pieces or discarded after months of continuous wear. Most items were, after all, government property and not something a GI could send or bring home. They were issued with clean new uniforms and equipment to wear home or wherever else they were going after a tour of duty.
Of course, there are always exceptions and those are just the pieces that spark interest. This field jacket worn by Sergeant Gerould Town is one item that made it through the war and returned home, likely on account of it being a private purchase item rather than an issued uniform. It resembles the lightweight M41 field jacket of WWII vintage, but includes a thicker wool lining and button cuffs. Chances are this was created from a sleeping bag which was made of the same wool inner and cotton outer. Typical of modified Korean War uniforms, it also features sleeve pockets and a name tape. It shows some use with soiling throughout and a tattered elbow. When this arrived in the collection, it was missing one of the chevrons revealing the area beneath where the previous rank had been sewn on before Town was promoted.
UNIFORMS AND HELMETS WORN IN THE FIELD
The M1 helmet is an icon and enjoyable to collect regardless of accompanying provenance, but those that are well attributed can become anyone's holy grail or white whale. Few combat helmets can be traced to actual use in the Korean War, a scarcity attributed to the smaller number of personnel than compared to World War II, similar to souvenirs and bringbacks. Of that small number, any that are painted with insignia are scarce. Colonel Jack Kron managed to take his helmet home, possibly because of his affinity for souvenirs. He kept a number of mementos from World War II and this helmet may have been his favorite item to represent Korean War service. The helmet exhibits gorgeous hand painted divisional and battalion insignia and a soldered on oak leaf for rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The usually corked finish is worn smooth and shiny and retains a layer of grime. The liner suspension has dried and broken with age, but the exterior still sports a strong finish showing similar insignia as the shell, though for Kron's previous rank and unit, the 13th Field Artillery in which he was executive officer. His name is clearly painted on the interior surface. On the inside of the shell are the scrubbed remains of the name of the 52d Field Artillery's former commander, Marshall Armor. Apparently, Jack kept his own liner and swapped the steel shell with Armor's when he took command of the battalion in spring of 1951.
What makes this helmet particularly amazing is the accompanying photographs documenting much of Jack's year of 1951 in Korea. Many of the photos focus on the change of command ceremony, a USO gathering with Jack Benny, and the Hwachon Reservoir. There are nearly three hundred photographs, a portion of which are beautiful color Kodachromes. Within those there are many that feature Jack wearing or posing with this particular helmet. The group is an incredible archive not just documenting Jack's service, but the 24th Division Artillery and life in Korea.
A second helmet in the collection with actual combat use is that of Captain Jack Place, a platoon commander for much of his tour and briefly commander of G Company, 179th Infantry Regiment. There is a faint outline of a Lieutenant's bar on the front and was either worn off or rubbed off from use or change in rank. Had this helmet not come from Jack's family, the history would likely have been lost as it is not named or documented otherwise. An excellent lesson in why it is always important to ask for more information!
Another type of item few in numbers are legitimate damaged helmets, especially to be found in the hands of the original owner rather than dug from the battlefield over fifty years later. Often helmets exhibiting 'battle damage' were simply shot on the range and not actually a victim of lead or shrapnel from wartime use.
Captain Place likely owes his life to this steel pot. On the final day of the war, he was defending his command post when he was hit by shrapnel that severely wounded his arm, struck his face and left a large dent in the helmet. I can only image it blew the helmet off his head and for some reason he or one of his men recovered it.