HISTORY IN THE MARKETPLACE.
As World War II veterans pass away, medals, uniforms, photographs, documents and other memorabilia of their military service are being sold by family members and making their way into the marketplace. One such collection of memorabilia recently ended up on eBay, the popular Internet auction site.
As a paperboy during the war years, Kenneth Tomb was exposed daily to headlines that piqued his interest in the conflict. He began to acquire the shoulder-sleeve insignia of the various American units he was reading about, and eager to expand his collection, the 12-year-old asked his friends and neighbors in Bala, Pa., to request insignia from their sons and daughters in service.
In 1944 several teachers at Tomb’s school organized a hobby show. Tomb wanted to impress attendees, so he sent requests for insignia to both Maj. Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, the head of the Army Air Forces, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SIIAEF). The young-ster hoped that responses from either of those men would give his display the im-pact and punch he desired. No doubt amazed and delighted, Tomb received replies to both requests. According to a war-era newspaper clipping, Tomb wrote Arnold at his home in Virginia on April 24 asking for an insignia. In a return letter dated May 2, 1944, Arnold’s wife Eleanor wrote: “My Dear Kenneth: General Arnold is away from Washington at present so I am taking the liberty of answering your letter and sending you a little “exhibit” for your hobby show, as by the time he returns it too late for the show. The enclosed insignia was sent to him from India and as there are several I knew he would be most happy for you to have one of these.” The letter included one of General Arnold’s Army Air Forces bullion-embroidered patches constructed of gold wire sewn on blue velvet.
On June 6, 1944, Eisenhower was busy with more important matters, and the general was doubdess unaware of Tomb’s request. The next day, however, with much of what was happening in Normandy beyond his control, the supreme commander began to answer some of his mail. One of the letters was Tomb’s. In a short and succinct reply written on D-plus-1, Eisenhower wrote: “Dear Kenneth: I shall be happy to comply with your request and am enclosing my new shoulder sleeve insignia. Sincerely, Dwight D. Eisenhower.” The letter included an 8-by-10 sheet featuring a color reproduction of Eisenhower’s U.S. Army shoulder-sleeve insignia. The envelope bears an APO (Army Post Office) postmark of June 10, 1914, and a “Passed by Army Censor Lt. Col. E.R. Lee” stamp.
On January 23, 2006, eBay seller Bob Johnson put Tomb’s collection up for auction. Johnson had obtained the items nearly 20 years earlier. “Tomb brought his patch collection and these items into our military antique store and sold them to my wife ,”Johnson said. “I was away at the time. He told her that his health was poor, cancer, I think. He told my wife the story of how he obtained the Ike letter and Arnold patch, which were the cornerstone of his collection. I kept the patches that I needed for my own U.S. patch collection and sold the duplicates. I kept the Ike letter and Arnold patch because they were so unique.”
When asked why he was selling them —now, Johnson said, “I have been collecting for almost 50 years and I am looking toward retirement, so I have been slowly selling my personal collection.” Para-phrasing Ozzie Klavestad, the founder of the Stagecoach Gun Museum in Shakopee, Minn., Johnson added: “We collectors are merely caretakers of history. When it comes time to sell we pass the relics on to a new customer.”
The auction included Arnold’s patch, the sheet of paper featuring the reproduction of the SHAEF insignia, the two letters and their accompanying envelopes, and a black-and-white newspaper photo of Tomb showing off his items. The lot sold for $889 to Wade MacElwain, a teacher in the Florida Miami—Dade public school system. MacElwain said: “I bring interesting artifacts/documents to class to show my students. That General Ike would take time out on June 7th to sign this letter is a real testament to the American heroes of that era. What a metaphor for a time gone by and a time wished for today.”
WORLD WAR II Magazine
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June 2006. (Pg. 10) 1-800-829-3340
Church of the Science of God
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