Colin Wilson has an unusual hobby; some might even say obsession. For most of his life, the Newton native has been interested in history, and military history in particular. Although not a veteran himself, he became interested in the accoutrements of the military through his grandfather.
Everett Wilson served in Company D 776th Amphibian Tank Battalion, in Fort Ord, Calif., and in the horse cavalry before that, being drafted in March 1941. He served in Augaur, Peleliu and Leyte in the Philippines, and in Okinawa. When his grandfather died in 1999 at the age of 80, Wilson inherited his uniform, his medals, and many items Everett kept from the war.
“He didn’t want to talk about the war much,” Wilson said of his grandfather, but his uniform and the memorabilia his grandson now owns talks for him. Wilson began sorting through his grandfather’s war items, and he caught the military collecting bug.
Now, Wilson said, he has items from every branch of the military, from World War I to the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War, and from privates up to colonel. He has Navy Cross recipients, and a Marine Major’s dress blues, that once belonged to Milligan Hereford of Steptoe, Wash., who served at the Battle of Midway and in Korea. He has dozens of different rates and ranks, and Wilson believes it all has value.
“Some vets think their service wasn’t important, but everybody had a job to do, and it was important,” Wilson said.
Among his treasures are complete uniforms, including special insignia, ribbons and medals, field equipment, such as packs, boots, helmets, flags and ammo, not to mention photographs and newspaper clippings.
Wilson admits to buying a box of miscellaneous kitchen tools just for the newspaper that was lining the box. But the newspaper was a Des Moines Tribune with the headline that the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor. Another prize possession is a miniature sized Des Moines Register that was sent to Iowa servicemen overseas. That was in a footlocker belonging to Joe Dluhos, a native of Colfax. When Dluhos sent his footlocker home after the war, he wrote a note to his wife on the picture of the pinup girl he kept inside the lid.
Wilson gets much of his collection from auctions, as well as online Web sites, such as e-Bay. Other items have been given to him by family members of veterans. One World War II Navy uniform he found on a curb in Cedar Rapids following the flooding, destined for the landfill.
One item Wilson said he couldn’t put a price on was the Army Airborne uniform of Richard Dale Drain, who entered the service in 1943 in Washington, D.C. He purchased the uniform from Drain’s nephew, who told him that his uncle was always aloof and didn’t talk about his service. After some investigation, Wilson discovered that Drain had served four years active duty and then many more years in the CIA, and was one of the planners of the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1962. That bit of information raised the cachet on the uniform considerably.
Among the local veterans’ uniforms represented in Wilson’s collection, are Cecil Carpenter, who served in the Marines during World War II and Carroll Talbot, another Marine, both of whom were on Iwo Jima at the same time; Garland Oster, an Army veteran of World War II; Orie Miller of Prairie City, who served in the 34th Infantry Army during World War II, and Simon Gates a World War II Army veteran; and Bill Snetselaar, a World War II veteran from Prairie City.
Wilson said he is often asked why he collects military memorabilia. He answers that it’s about remembering.
“I don’t want people to forget what their father or grandfather did,” Wilson said. “They call WWII vets “The Greatest Generation,” but people forget about the Korean vets, and for so long Vietnam vets were looked down upon. It’s a travesty.” He points to a large suitcase full of letters written home from a veteran overseas during World War II. “These could very well have been destroyed and lost forever. It’s good that I can preserve them.”
Wilson said he would be glad to show portions of his military collection to a military or veterans organization, or to a school class who may be interested in learning about military history.
John Jennings can be contacted at 792-3121 ext. 425 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.