Patrolling For USS Vincennes Veterans: A Subtle Naval Aviator Find


In reviewing the archive of previous articles on this site, it is becoming apparent to me that a few trends have truly taken shape with both the subject matter and the items that I have been pursuing for my collection. Specializing or focusing one’s collection helps provide direction, structure and boundaries for pursuits that will empower collectors to have discipline when “cool” pieces or “good deals” surface but are outside of the lines. As has been previously recommended, focusing prevents collectors from being overwhelmed and crowded-in with too many items. Perhaps readers can already determine the direction of this article without reading further and maybe those who choose to continue from this point will be rewarded with a compelling story or information about a piece.

When I received this message from colleague, my heart leaped and I hurried to check out the listing.

I make no secrets about the sort of pieces that I pursue with my collecting interests and I am reminded constantly by friends, family and colleagues that I have been effective in communicating my activities. When I received a private message from a collector colleague regarding an auction listing that detailed a uniform item from a naval aviator who had served aboard the heavy cruiser, USS Vincennes (CA-44) before World War II, I was compelled to check into the auction. When I attempted to access the link to the auction listing that accompanied the message, the listing had closed, though without a bid being submitted.

Commander John Ramee’s jacket label from the Naval Uniform Shop of Brooklyn, NY, Note the remarks (blue gaberdine, ribbons and aviator wings) mentioned at the bottom.

The item shown in the listing was a naval officer’s service dress blue uniform jacket. The sleeve cuffs were each adorned with three, same-sized gold bullion stripes, indicating that the original owner held the rank of a line officer commander. On the left breast of the jacket is a custom-made ribbon bar that told of the officer’s service which included duty before, during and after World War II (through the Korean War). Inside the right side of the jacket, the Naval Uniform Shop – Brooklyn label with the name, “J. Ramee” along with the date that it was either ordered or made (November 8, 1955). The tailor’s information specifying the customer’s request is imprinted on the label (in addition to the commander’s name and possibly his service number): blue gaberdine material and including customized aviator’s wings and ribbons – both secured in place. All of the information on the label matched the construction of the jacket with one significant exception, the lack of aviator’s wings.

Note the ghosting of the (now removed) bullion naval aviators wings above Commander Ramee’s custom ribbon rack (see below for ribbon details).

A close inspection of the photos within the listing reveals the ghost-imprint of the former placement of bullion wings which where, quite obviously removed by a militaria collector in search of a quick profit. While the uniform jacket has some monetary value to militaria collectors, those who specialize in the adornments (collar devices, warfare devices such as wings, combat badges, etc., medals and ribbons and sleeve insignia) seldom desire a full uniform (or the commitment to preservation and storage such pieces require) for their collection. This “Ramee” jacket was quite obviously chopped for its most valuable element.

What drew my attention to the uniform jacket was the same aspect that led my collector colleague to reach out to me regarding the listing. A cursory search for information regarding Commander J. Ramee produced fantastic results. Besides Ramee being a very unique name (the only one listed in the Naval Officers Registers during the period of time in which this man served was John Ramee), it was one of his earliest assignments that stood out to me – he served aboard the heavy cruiser USS Vincennes (CA-44) from 1937-38 soon after earning his aviator’s wings. This aspect certainly piqued my interest in the jacket however that was quickly tempered by the fact that the auction had already closed prior to me viewing the listing. With prompting by my fellow collector and my wife, I sent an inquiry to the seller in an effort to determine availability and if there was a willingness to negotiate a mutually beneficial price. After an exchange of messages, the jacket was on its way.

Who was Commander John Ramee? I am compelled to research every item in my collection, especially those pieces that are tied to individuals. Before the jacket arrived, I proceeded to learn as much about this naval aviator as I could find. Through sources such as Ancestry, Google and my growing online archive of U.S. Naval Academy annuals (known as the “Lucky Bag”), I was able to gather a fair amount of information regarding Commander Ramee’s service.

John Ramee’s 1933 class photo (image source: 1933 Lucky Bag).

John Francis Wyman Ramee entered flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola in 1935 (he was in class 80) and graduated in 1936 with his wings of gold and was subsequently stationed aboard the heavy cruiser USS New Orleans (CA-32) as an aviator, flying the ship’s catapult-launched SOC Seagull scout float planes. Graduating as part of the United States Naval Academy’s class of 1933, Ensign Ramee was most-likely bitten by the flying bug while serving aboard his first ship, USS Saratoga (CV-3), the third United States aircraft carrier. It was aboard this ship where the young naval officer witnessed the Navy’s developing combat air tactics via the various Fleet Problems (these were essentially extensive war games) the Saratoga participated in. By the time Ramee was set to detach from the carrier, The Sara’s new commanding officer was Captain William “Bull” Halsey who most-likely would have signed his detaching orders.

Two of USS Vincennes (CA-44) Curtiss SOC Seagulls secured to one of the ship’s catapults (author’s collection).

As with his time aboard the lead ship in the heavy cruiser class (USS New Orleans), John Ramee flew the relatively new biplane scout aircraft, the Curtiss SOC Seagull which was affixed with a large, center-line float with outboard opposing outboard wing-mounted floats for stability during taxiing, take-offs and landings. The USS Vincennes carried four of the aircraft and, due to the fold-ability of the Seagulls’ wings, two could be stored in each of the ship’s two small hangars. Unsuccessful in locating specific details of Ramee’s assignment dates, it appears that he might have been present at the time of the ship’s commissioning (February 24, 1937). In a post-career (published after 1972) retrospective for the USS Wasp (CV/CVA/CVS-18), a summary of Ramee’s career noted his mentioning of the USS Vincennes’ post-shakedown cruise to the North Atlantic with port visits to Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland (the ship also visited Le Havre, France and Portsmouth, England) as highlights of his time aboard the CA-44.

With Ramee’s next duty assignment listed as VP-44 (most-likely a detachment that was then stationed at Seattle, WA) in 1939, I was reminded of a 1938-dated photo that I acquired years ago showing the bulk of the USS Vincennes’ crew positioned and posed in the after section of the ship. The large print is so clear that one can discern faces for most of the visible men in the photo. Armed with a photo taken from the 1933 Lucky Bag, I began to zoom into each officer in search of the pilot. After a cursory pass, one man in particular kept drawing my attention. Glancing down at his chest, an aviator’s wing pin is affixed to his left chest. Obviously, there is more to the facial recognition practice than I have experience with, but I am fairly certain that the man in the USS Vincennes crew photo is John Ramee.

The Crew of the USS Vincennes (CA-44) posed on the fantail of the ship in 1938. LTjg Ramee appears to be seated in the fourth row at the far left – see enlarged image, below (author’s collection).

A close-up of the 1938 USS Vincennes crew photo shows what appears to be the young John Ramee among the ship’s officers (author’s collection).

Following his tour on the Vincennes, Ramee spent a few years attached to Patrol Squadron 44 (VP-44) which, according to his bio (in the USS Wasp book) was located in Seattle (most likely at Naval Air Station Sand Point), however, the squadron history states that it wasn’t established until 1941. A follow-on assignment for Ramee saw him flying with VP-33 detachment (based at NAS Coco Solo, Panama) during the Neutrality Patrols, leading up to the United States entry into World War II. With War raging in two theaters, Ramee spent time with different commands lending his time in different capacities (including temporary duty aboard the USS Intrepid (CV-11) following her August 1943 commissioning.

For nearly two years, Lieutenant Commander Ramee served as an aviator and assistant air officer aboard the newly commissioned USS Wasp (CV-18) (note: Ramee’s bio mentions his receipt of a Navy Presidential Unit Citation ribbon though the Wasp was not awarded the decoration). His final wartime assignment was located back in the Pacific Northwest as part of the “Commissioning Detail” (pre-commissioning crew) serving as the air officer for the USS Commencement Bay (CVE-105) during her construction at Todd Pacific Shipyards at Tacoma, Washington, which was located on the shores of her namesake body of water.

John Ramee’s naval aviation career continued in the years following the end of the war with service at Naval Air Station Quonset and aboard the seaplane tender USS Abermarle (AV-5) serving as the ship’s operations officer and making a return to his roots. Promoted to the rank of commander in 1948, Ramee found himself serving overseas at Naval Air Base Guam followed by assignments with the Chief Intelligence Section in the Office of Petroleum Programs as well as with them munitions board of the Joint Petroleum before he finally retired in 1959, having served 26 years on active duty.

While my research trail for Commander Ramee has reached its end (there are deeper dives that can be done but they require additional resources) and I have essentially discovered enough about him to have a fairly decent overview of his naval career. One area of Ramee’s service (including his four years at Annapolis) that I had been hopeful to find surrounded athletics – specifically baseball. Commander Ramee coached and played basketball while at flight school in Pensacola and at NAS Quonset as well as being a highly competitive seniors tennis player in the late 1950s. Later in life, Ramee’s passion for flight never diminished as he owned and flew is own Stinson aircraft.

John Ramee’s passion for aviation never ceased. Here is is dressed warmly and posed with a Piper airplane (image source: USS Wasp CV/CVS/CVA-18 reunion book, pub. 1972).

Curiosity combined with the desire to accurately document Commander Ramee’s service does fuel my compulsory desire to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request a summary of his service and awards in the near future. The discrepancy between Ramee’s awards and decorations affixed to his dress uniform and the mention of being awarded the PUC ribbon (which is absent from those on the jacket – see listing below) might indicate that there are other decorations that might be missing (such as an air medal).

  • Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon
  • American Defense Medal (with hole from missing device)
  • American Campaign Medal
  • Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal – WWII (7 campaigns)
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal (Korean Wartime service)
  • Philippine Liberation Medal – World War II

Still in need of being dry cleaned and pressed, Ramee’s uniform looks far having the wings restored to their rightful place.

Besides Ramee’s own naval career, he comes from a family of servants to the nation. He was born on December 4, 1911 in the Philippines to Per Ramee, a Swedish immigrant (class of 1904, West Point) and Frances Ruth Wyman, the daughter of a Civil War veteran from Minnesota. At the time of John’s birth, John’s father, Per was a young officer serving in the U.S. Army. Per Ramee would serve and see action in both World Wars and would be joined in the armed forces by his three other children:

With the cold research trail, the remainder of Commander Ramee’s life will remain untold. A final mystery surrounding the retired naval aviator is the location of his final resting place. With all of his siblings and his parents accounted for, it seems somewhat odd that John would be, as of yet, the only one of Per and Frances Ramee’s children (the oldest and the last to pass away) to not be interred.

As soon as Commander Ramee’s jacket arrived, I began searching for a suitable replacement bullion wing to restore the jacket to its proper state. Another friend and collector colleague happened to be visiting the largest militaria convention in the United States (the Ohio Valley Military Society’s Show of Shows) which prompted me to reach out to see if he could source a suitable replacement on my behalf. After approximately an hour, three photos of bullion naval aviator wings were in my messenger app. A short time later, the wing that I selected was in my hands, ready to be placed on Ramee’s jacket (I can’t help but imagine another pilfered uniform jacket with a missing wing).

Perhaps this story isn’t a repeat after all and it merely shines a spotlight on a specific area in which I focus my collection. Commander Ramee was a naval aviator who served along with thousands of fellow naval aviators during WWII. He never earned a valor medal nor did he become an ace. Ramee fulfilled a lengthy career of service (30 years if one counts his four years at the Naval Academy) like millions of American young men and women have. What sets him apart for me is that he served two of those years aboard the namesake-cruiser that preceded my own. It is an honor to be the caretaker of his his uniform.

Sometimes Home-front and Sweetheart Pieces Are the Best Items Available


The USS Tacoma (C-18) taken shortly after her commissioning. The photo (an RPPC) is part of the author’s archive,

As much as I enjoy the brief naval warship histories that are available online, where they are lacking is often the area where my research needs them to be more complete, especially when there are artifacts that require deeper investigation. One of the ships that I am constantly on the watch for associated or connected artifacts was an early Twentieth Century protected cruiser. The USS Tacoma (C-18) was the fifth vessel of the six-ship Denver Class cruisers (hull numbers C-14 through C-19) that were placed into commission in a fourteen-month span between November 1903 to February of 1905. Oddly enough, the Tacoma was commissioned second (chronologically) behind USS Cleveland (C-19) which was the first to be placed into active service.

Artifacts from the USS Tacoma are very scarce. Apart from the occasional press photograph, few pieces become available on the collector market. Unlike other more famous warships of this era (such as the USS Maine), the Tacoma is a relatively unknown ship. Another contributing factor to the lack of USS Tacoma material could be its brief service life and untimely and sorrowful demise.

For many reasons, I have taken a concerted interest and have been on the hunt for just about anything that is even remotely contextual. In the last decade, I have been able to acquire memorabilia (rather than militaria artifacts directly obtained from the USS Tacoma or veterans who served aboard her) that is more along the lines of homefront or sweetheart pieces such as this ornate silver spoon.

This portrait (printed as a real photo postcard or RPPC) was taken between 1904 and 1913 and shows two sailors. Note the flat hat tally of the seated sailor which denotes the ship he is assigned to (the cruiser USS Tacoma).

In the last several months, I have been able to secure two pieces that fit into these categories. The first, a vintage real photo postcard (RPPC) portrait of two sailors in their dress blue uniforms. The apprentice seaman that is seated is wearing a flat hat complete with the tally around the hatband that denotes the name of the ship. The sailor standing next to him is also wearing his flat hat but, being the more salty and experienced sailor, he has customized his to be more relaxed in its appearance by removing the stiffener. With the top having a slouched appearance, the ship’s tally is concealed.

Dating this photo to a specific year is somewhat difficult however it is rather easy to narrow down the range of years by using the visible clues on the subjects, themselves. The USS Tacoma served for just under 20 years (commissioned on January 30, 1904 until she broke apart having run aground on Blanquilla Reef near Vera Cruz, Mexico on January 16, 1924) which is a broad range of time. Fortunately, enlisted uniforms underwent some significant regulations changes during that period of time.

Noting the standing sailor’s rank insignia (his badge which indicates his job specialty known in the Navy as a “rating”), there are a few elements surrounding the design of the badge and the location that, when compared with various changes to these specific areas, the era from which this photo originates is determined to be within the first decade of the ship’s service. This particular second class petty officer is a machinist’s mate which is part of the engine room force. Prior to the uniform regulations of 1913, ship’s crews were divided into two watch-standing sections (when one section is on duty, the other is either sleeping or performing daily shipboard tasks) that were known as “port” and “starboard” sections. The petty officers in those sections would wear their rating badge on the corresponding sleeve (left sleeve for port, right for starboard). With the regulations changes, the watch-standing correlation was abolished and all non-seaman branch ratings were moved to the left sleeve.

A deeper analysis of the sailor’s uniforms raises some questions regarding visible anomalies. The cuff piping on the MM2/c’s jumper top is clearly visible (the three stripes represent all three of the lower grades of non-rated seaman that he progressed through) and yet his collar and flap are blank similar to that of an un-dress jumper which should not have piping on the collar flap (and would have cuff-less sleeves).

1913 U.S. Navy Regulations – Dress White Jumper specifications.

Another interesting uniform configuration lies with the dress of the seated apprentice seaman’s under shirt – a blue knit sweater with a drawstring tied into a bow at the neckline. After pouring through the uniform regulations, I was unable to determine any stipulations governing such a configuration. Sailors were adept at customizing their uniforms to suit their personalities and level of personal comfort due to the more permissive standards of the era. With present-day regulations, uniformity and appearance is more controlled and restrictive and would negate such customized approaches.

The photograph itself wouldn’t garner much collector attention as it is merely a portrait of two unnamed sailors. To a collector of USS Tacoma memorabilia, the RPPC is golden. Perhaps a bit more interesting for some specialized collectors are home-front or sweetheart pieces (items made or purchased as remembrances of a loved one who is away from home, serving in the armed forces). Decorative and commemorative pillow covers were commonly purchased by service members for their mothers or sweethearts with the idea that a a reminder of the veteran is close at hand (kept on their bed or adorning the couch). These pieces were manufactured by vendors and sold on or near military bases and were quite common from the 1930s through the 1950s. Though commemorative pillow covers were made in the early parts of the Twentieth Century, they weren’t as prevalent.

This pre-WWI silk pillow cover is quite unique. The flags shown within the design seem to indicate its age.

When this cover was listed, it stood out and immediately drew my attention due to the brilliant colors and design along with the flags of the world. Immediately, I recognized the depiction of the ship and was astonished by the unique size and the patriotic imagery. Dating the piece is a bit of a challenge though it can certainly be narrowed down based upon the the details with what is depicted. Due to the warranted animosity towards the antagonists of the Great War, it is highly doubtful that anyone would market something that contained the flags of these aggressors.

It could be folly to rely solely upon the flag illustrations as the credible source for dating the pillow cover. Considering that available reference resources were not as current or contained current variations to draw upon. Also, the imagery is employed as a decorative element rather than to be an authoritative source for flags of the world.

 

Independent of assessing the age of the USS Tacoma pillow cover, the piece itself is near-flawless and shows no signs of wear, age or fading. It is clear that the artifact has been stored away from ultraviolet light and protected from oxidation for nearly a century.

Though not as ornately designed as the obverse, the back panel of the USS Tacoma (C-18) pillow cover resembles the naval Union Jack with the blue field and 49 stars.

The history of the ship and the tragic story surrounding her loss is compelling reason enough to seek out such artifacts. Keeping the story of the Tacoma alive by collecting and sharing artifacts from the ship and her crew is a satisfying aspect to my collecting.

A Cut Above: Sculpting Leadership Excellence; The Draper and Goodrich Cavalry and Armor Awards


In the process of investigating, researching and collecting militaria, one will undoubtedly uncover compelling narratives and personal stories surrounding artifacts. In addition to the tangible and tactile qualities and traits that accompany each piece, for many collectors, it is the connection to historical events or personalities that transforms an otherwise ordinary object into something that is utterly priceless. The Veteran’s Collection has been a vehicle used to educate fellow collectors and military history enthusiasts (predominantly) through individual militaria artifacts that reside within our collection.

Of the many roads this author traveled in becoming a collector of militaria, one in particular was focused specifically on genealogical and ancestry research centered upon those who served in the armed forces. Besides the military-specific discoveries associated with individuals in this author’s lineage, other interesting discoveries were made within one maternal great-grandfathers’ branch of the family tree. Seeking connections to historical, famous or infamous personalities is a common practice among amateur and familial genealogists, and some folks are only able to unearth such finds eight or more generations up their tree. For my family tree, one such discovery was four generations removed from me.

Though family genealogical research has revealed a handful of noteworthy ancestors, the pertinent individual (to this article) was an artist, sometimes referred to as the “Sculptor in Buckskin,” a name which Alexander Phimister Proctor entitled his 1971 autobiography. Canadian-born Proctor’s grandfather (who is also one of my third great-grandfathers – I have 16 of them) emigrated to the greater London, Ontario, area from Scotland, having served in the area years prior in the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot, known as the Highland Black Watch. When the artist was young, his family moved to Iowa in the months following the end of the Civil War before ultimately settling in the Denver, Colorado, area where Proctor would experience life on the American Frontier. A prolific sculptor throughout his life, A. Phimister Proctor studied in New York and Paris and collaborated with Augustus Saint GaudensProctor’s body of work was influenced by the Western Frontier and pioneers, along with legendary American figures including those from the Civil War.

This artist’s rendering of the U.S. Cavalryman is a representation of Alexander Phimister Proctor’s commissioned work, used as the present-day Armor & Cavalry Leadership Award (image source: U.S. Army Armor School Pamphlet 360-4).

Rather than to elicit incessant yawns or to encourage readers to click away to more compelling content, abstaining from committing significant line-space to my personal genealogy seems to be the better course for this article.  My cousin (first cousin, three times removed) does have a more specific connection to the overarching subject at hand: militaria adding further delight to the discovery of the familial connection.

One of Proctor’s countless spectacular commissioned pieces was the result of a 1926 conversation between the (then) Chief of the Cavalry, Major General Malin Craig, and one of his officers, Major L.E. Goodrich of the Cavalry Reserve in Miami, Florida.

Major Goodrich was seeking to improve troopers’ participation in cavalry exercises by incorporating competition along with an incentive of an award for the unit that achieves the highest performance rating in the training. General Craig commissioned his friend, A. Phimister Proctor with $2,000 to sculpt a trophy (an amount that was far below Proctor’s typical fee for an individual commission) sourced from funds donated by Goodrich. Following the creation of the Goodrich Trophy in 1926, the first unit recipient was Troop G of the Second Cavalry (Fort Riley, Kansas, then the home of the U.S. Cavalry school). In the years that followed, the Goodrich Trophy would be awarded to the cavalry troop that excelled in general cavalry proficiency (mobility, fire power and shock action).

“Major Goodrich originally donated $50,000 to sponsor a mounted service ride. However, the final outcome was the bronze equestrian statue pictured. A. Phimister Proctor, one of America’s leading sculptors, was commissioned to design and sculpt the Goodrich Riding Trophy. Proctor, whose specialty was sculpting animals, especially horses, produced the masterpiece of a cavalry trooper astride a horse in full gallop, attacking with a drawn pistol. Proctor used a Sergeant Wotiski and his mount “Peggy” as models during the completion of the sculpture.” – Have You Seen Me?, Sergeant Major Timothy E. Maples, 1997

Proctor’s sculpture featured a cavalry trooper mounted atop a horse depicted in full gallop. The trooper, gripping the horse’s reins with his left hand, has his M1911 .45 caliber pistol drawn and leveled upon an unseen target.  The bronze sculpture, titled “U.S. Cavalryman,” is mounted to a white marble pedestal with “Goodrich Riding Trophy” engraved into both sides.

Reproduction of Alexander Phimister Proctor’s (American, 1860-1950) “Goodrich Riding Trophy”-1926, bronze. A 1977 casting after Alexander Phimister Proctor’s (American, 1860-1950) original 1926 casting depicting a cavalryman on horseback with pistol aimed to fire, on marble plinth base, with inscription “Goodrich Riding Trophy”, signed to back “A. Phimister Proctor”. This casting was produced by the Draper Combat Leadership Trust in an edition of 46. Overall (with base) approximately 20.75″ x 26″ x 8″; (without base) 17.5″ x 20.75″ x 7.75″ This example was auctioned for $600 (image source: Ahlers and Ogletree Auctions).

According to the rules of the competition, the troop that won the competition three times was to be designated as the permanent custodian of the trophy. A 1936 revision of the rules of the competition allowed the cavalry regiment with three winning troops to retain the trophy on a permanent basis. Troop B of the Third Cavalry won the annual competition that same year, distinguishing the regiment with the required three wins that would retire the Goodrich Trophy and establish the regiment as the trophy’s permanent custodian.

Ahead of the establishment of the Goodrich Riding Trophy, Lieutenant Colonel Wickliffe P. Draper sought to institute competition in testing the leadership among small cavalry units. The resulting Cavalry Leadership Test for Small Units was established in 1924 by Draper. In 1928, LTC Draper established a trust fund of $35,000 to perpetuate the award which by then incorporated a platoon-sized competition held at multiple installations throughout the United States including Fort Clark, Texas; Fort Myer, Virginia; Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont; and Fort Knox, Kentucky, adding in mechanized cavalry units as eligible participants.

In the mid-1950s, the award was renamed as the Armor Leadership Award along with a new regulation (within AR 672-73) stipulating that tests would be held to determine the best platoon in a designated armored division.  Additional changes to the competition included providing authorization to the Commander of each armored and infantry division, armored cavalry regiment, separate armor brigade (including mechanized brigade), and armor group of the active Army, Army National Guard, and the United States Army Reserve to annually select the outstanding tank or cavalry unit, including attack helicopter and air cavalry units, under his command.

In the early 1970s, following years of diminishing interest in the Armor Leadership award, the Assistant Commandant of the Armor School distributed reminders abut the upcoming annual competition which prompted David K. Doyle (then, Colonel and Commander of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment) months later to write a letter in response to the reminder suggesting that the Goodrich Trophy Competition be revived and that the Goodrich Competition be held for cavalry units and the Draper Competition be held for tank units.

 

Following a review of Doyle’s letter, the Draper Combat Leadership Trust Fund Council responded that funds were not available for reviving the Goodrich Competition. Instead, the committee proposed that the Goodrich Trophy should be used as the award for the winner of the Draper Competition (in place of the plaque that was then in use) to incentivize the Draper Competition. The committee’s recommendation of combining the Goodrich Trophy with the Draper Competition, the original intent of the continuation of demonstrated of leadership through competent unit training, would not only be solidified, but rejuvenate competitive interest among troops.

The Goodrich Riding Trophy along with the Draper Award coin and book at Fort Benning, Georgia (Photo by John D. Helms – john.d.helms@us.army.mil).

In 1974, the Goodrich Riding Trophy became the symbol of the Draper Combat Leadership Award and 46 recasts of the original trophy were produced and the image of the U.S. Cavalryman (as depicted with the Goodrich Riding Trophy) was incorporated into an annual Armor leadership award.

Further revisions to the award program include provisions for the perpetual reproduction of the Goodrich Riding Trophy as replicas, and are now readily available for Army-wide distribution to the Commander of each armored and infantry division, armored cavalry regiment, separate armored brigade (including mechanized brigade), and armored group of the Active Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve, and are funded by the Draper Leader Trust Fund.  The current trophy includes an option for a secondary base that provides for up to ten unit inscriptions (for subsequent awards).

Awarded upon completion of the Armor Pre-Command course at Fort Knox, this coin is only one element of what is given to recipients. The obverse is adorned with the image of A. Phimister Proctor’s U.S. Cavalryman sculpture and the reverse features the U.S. Armor insignia in the center flanked by the cavalry and armor collar device insignia. A place for the the serial number of the recipients’ specific award is provided (this one has been altered for security purposes) beneath the central image (image source: Todd Mayer, Col. U.S.A., Ret.).

With the Goodrich Riding Trophy being presented to and residing within each recipient unit, the Draper Armor Leadership Award is presented to individuals in the form of a serialized challenge coin and a leather-bound presentation edition of the Cavalry and Armor Heritage Series book (Volume I | Leadership). Both the challenge coin and the book’s cover feature the image of the U.S. Cavalryman as it was derived from A. Phimister Proctor’s 1926 sculpture.

In addition to the coin, the Draper award recipients are gifted with the “Cavalry and Armor: Heritage Series, Leadership | Volume I” leather-bound book. The cover features and embossed image of the U.S. Cavalryman sculpture created by A. Phimister Proctor (image source: Todd Mayer, Col. U.S.A., Ret.).

When the Draper Armor Leadership Award is presented, I wonder if the recipient troops and troopers see the U.S. Cavalryman image as anything more than a simple, symbolic representation. Upon my discovery of my cousin’s connection with the award, I instinctively reached out to one of my friends, a retired Army colonel (who served in the armored branch) to determine if he was a Draper Armor and Cavalry Leadership Award recipient.  My friend, Todd Mayer (Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired) confirmed my suspicions that, “(the award) was an automatic if you were selected to command a battalion or a squadron which was a lieutenant colonel command,” Mayer replied. “I was a Major when I received this book (part of the award) at Fort Knox. Just after that I was promoted to lieutenant colonel and commanded 2-107th Cavalry.” Todd Mayer mentioned that his Draper Award was given in conjunction with his successful completion of the Armor Pre-Command Course.

 

Though I served in the Navy, I rather enjoy this minuscule connection with the award through my cousin’s artistic achievement. An additional connection that brings me a measure of delight stems from another of my ancestors’ cavalry association (that I have previously shared on the Veterans Collection) with his service in the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry (Rush’s Lancers) during the Civil War.

Bearing a personalized plate for 1SG Jon D. Noyes, this U.S. Cavalryman statue, sculpted by A. Phimister Proctor, is now being used as part of the Draper Armor Leadership Unit Award rather than as the Goodrich Riding Trophy. This re-cast of the original trophy lacks the detail of the one cast in 1926 and the re-cast sculptures of the 1970s and appears to no longer bear the artist’s signature in the casting (image source: DVIDS/U.S. Army).

The militaria collector and genealogist in me fuels my interest in possessing any of these pieces within my collection. However, due to the controlled nature and prestigious nature surrounding the Goodrich/Draper Trophy along with the challenge coin, it is doubtful that any of them will ever legally become available on the militaria market as these pieces should remain with their rightful owners.

Sources and References:

 

 

Gaultney Brothers Sacrifice; USS Arizona, Iwo Jima and the USS Vincennes


Retrospective-type articles that touch upon a central topic or theme are useful for both the reader and author, especially within sites such as The Veteran’s Collection as the pulling together of related content and subject matter can shed new light and expose facts that were overlooked or previously hidden. The negative aspects of self-promotion come to light when it is very obvious that authors have run out of ideas and, rather than to have aging content remain on the front or home pages of their sites, publish fluff in order to keep up the appearance of fresh content.  Another reason could be to reflect upon old content while attempting to relevantly connect it to a current event.

If readers delve into the content of this site they would discover that navy-centric militaria outnumbers the articles published within this site the the better portion of those pieces focused upon a four ships bearing the same name. Within this author’s collection are a handful of artifacts from one of the four – the second ship – to carry the name Vincennes around the globe and into war. Although my collection does encompass artifacts associated with a few other ships (those vessels aboard which members of my family served), this particular warship holds special meaning and thus is at the center of my collection focus.

Commissioned in 1937, the New Orleans Class heavy cruiser (classified as such due to her main battery consisting of eight inch guns) USS Vincennes (CA-44) plied the peacetime seas for more than four years before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Despite the elapsed time since she was placed into service, many of her crew at the start of World War II were plankowners (they were part of the original crew, present at the time of commissioning) though personnel turnover was occurring and a steady rate. New crew members were replacing veterans whose enlistments were ending or were rotating to different commands. Wartime manning requirements, impacted by combat operations, increased for many vessels by as much as twenty percent.

For the aging USS Arizona (BB-39), the near 2,300-man crew was proud that their ship carried the flag of Commander Battleship Division One, Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd. Arizona had been serving the U.S. Navy for more than 25 years having been placed into commission in 1916; though she never fired her massive 14-inch guns at an enemy target – not even during World War I. Three-and-a-half weeks after Thanksgiving Day in 1941, the losses of WWII would begin to touch American lives throughout the country.

In late March of 1945 in the small town of Le Roy located in McLean County, Illinois which lies just north of dead-center of the state (about 140 miles southeast of Chicago), the small farming town was feeling the economic effects of the war with rationing in full swing and a large percentage of the area’s young, able-bodied men serving and fighting in far-off lands. Le Roy’s lone celebrity, Broadway star Betty Jane Watson (cousin of Jean Stapleton of 1970s television’s All in the Family fame) gained attention in the previous year playing the role “Gertie” in Oklahoma! and was now working as singer, performing (singing) with with bands in Chicago. Le Roy was a fairly quiet and peaceful town as families awaited word from their sons, fathers, brothers and uncles who were serving in the European and Pacific theaters, hopeful of good news.

Iwo Jima 1945 – the 3rd and 4th Marine Division Cemetery was beautifully laid into the volcanic soil. Though David Gaultney was laid to rest here, he (along with all of the Marines buried here) would ultimately be removed from the island and relocated (U.S. Navy photo).

PFC David Gaultney’s Marine Corps boot camp photograph, taken in April of 1945 (image source: The Pantograph).

At the home of William Gaultney that March, things may have been quiet for the farmer-turned-road-construction worker’s family as an ominous word arrived from the War Department.  From an island that until February 19, 1945 very few, if any, Americans had ever heard of, word made its way to Mr. Gaultney, via the Secretary of the Navy that his second youngest son, Private First Class David J. Gaultney was killed in combat on Iwo Jima. Nineteen year-old David was serving with “A” company of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines (Third Marine Division) having transferred to the unit weeks before (in January) as a replacement rifleman as the unit was rearming and refitting following their heavy combat operations on Guam in late July-early August of 1944. David J. Gaultney enlisted in April of 1944 and attended recruit training in San Diego that same summer before transferring to the Sixth Replacement Draft in preparation to serve in the Pacific. David turned 19 in October as he was training to fight in the Pacific but his life would be cut short four months later. David’s father was left to grieve without his wife, Nellie who had passed away (at age 54), just 25 months earlier, afflicted by heartbreak due to the heavy toll her family had already suffered in the War.

Gunner’s Mate Third Class Ralph Gaultney died from wounds sustained aboard the USS Arizona during the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack (image source: The Pantograph).

For William Gaultney, the notification of David’s loss on Iwo Jima was nothing new and one can assume that when the telegram arrived, the hesitation to open it eleven months after his son, David left for service in the Marine Corps was near-crippling for him, considering the two previous notifications that were sent to his home by the War Department, starting with word from Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. The scene portrayed on screen in the film, Saving Private Ryan as the U.S. Army car kicks up a dust cloud as it proceeds up the Ryan family farm road with Mrs. Ryan understanding what was coming; something terrible had happened to (perhaps her thoughts regarding) one of her sons. Instead, she is gripped with anguish, dropping to the porch as she reads the note handed to her by the Army officer telling her that three of her four sons had perished in combat.  While the Gaultney family weren’t hit with such a magnitude as was shown in the film. However, Mrs. Gaultney suffered through two losses in less than a year with her oldest son, succumbing to his wounds (on Christmas Eve, 1941) that he sustained aboard his ship, the USS Arizona (BB-39) on December 7.

Ralph Gaultney’s ship, the USS Arizona shown transiting the Panama Canal some time before her 1930s modernization (M. S Hennessy Collection).

Ralph Martin Gaultney was the second of William and Nellie Gaultney’s children to enlist to serve in the armed forces. Ralph joined the Navy on January 16, 1940, nearly two years before the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Following his training, Ralph reported aboard the aging battleship on the eve of Fleet Problem XXI (the 21st in the series of large scale naval exercises conducted since 1923 and shifted to the Hawaiian waters in 1925) and would serve aboard the ship during her overhaul (in Bremerton, WA) from late 1940 to early 1941 when Admiral Isaac Kidd hoisted his flag aboard the ship (Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh assumed command of the ship in February). The last time that Gunners Mate Third Class Ralph Gaultney would put to sea with the ship was just days before the attack. Twenty one year old Gaultney would linger for two weeks his ship was destroyed, succumbing to his wounds on December 24. Though Ralph was oldest son (there were seven children; four sons and three daughters) and the first of the Gaultney boys to perish, he wasn’t the first to join the military.

Steaming towards Guadalcanal in August 1942, the USS Vincennes (CA-44) dressed in her camouflage paint scheme, escorts the troop transports carrying the First Marine Division (M. S Hennessy Collection).

Initially listed as missing in action, Machinist Mate 1/c Leonard Gaultney perished when his ship, USS Vincennes (CA-44) was sunk on the night of August 8-9, 1942 near Savo Island in the Solomon Islands group (image source: The Pantograph).

Machinist’s Mate 1/c Leonard Gaultney had been serving in the Navy since he enlisted on September 1, 1938. Following his training, he reported aboard one of the Navy’s newest New Orleans Class heavy cruisers, the USS Vincennes (CA-44) while she was undergoing an overhaul at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in east San Francisco Bay.  Having been in commission since February 24, 1937, most of the ship’s company that were present with Gaultney had been there for two years and were plankowners. When Vincennes left Mare Island, she made her way back to the Atlantic Fleet (via the Panama Canal) to serve in Neutrality Patrols as well as to retrieve some of France’s wealth (gold) for safe storage in the United States in anticipation of a German invasion. Leonard Gaultney’s ship paid a visit to Cape Town South Africa to receive yet another large shipment of gold (this time as a payment) from the United Kingdom as compensation for arms in support of their war against Germany and Italy (WWII). When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, (then) Machinist Mate 2/c Gualtney’s ship was escorting a British convoy to South Africa, arriving two days later. In March of 1942, Vincennes arrived in San Francisco to join Task Force 18 and would escort USS Hornet and USS Enterprise to Japan for Colonel Doolittle’s air strike on Tokyo in April of 1942. With Japan still on the offensive, Leonard Gaultney would see action in the Battle of Midway as she screened the USS Yorktown, fighting off the Japanese air attacks.  By August of 1942, USS Vincennes escorted the amphibious forces carrying the First Marine Division to the Solomon Islands. On the morning of August 7, Gaultney heard the main batteries of Vincennes commencing the shore bombardment in preparation for landing the Marines on Guadalcanal’s beachhead. During the day, Vincennes’ 5-inch and 40mm guns shot down a “Betty” bomber that was part of a Japanese air strike on the American ships landing the troops.

A grim reminder of naval warfare, this list of those USS Vincennes sailors who remained missing months after the ship was lost in the Battle of Savo Island, August 8-9, 1942. MM1/c Leonard Gaultney is listed among the MIA.

Sunrise in the waters between the islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi and Savo would be MM1/c Gaultney’s last along with 331 of his USS Vincennes shipmates. That evening, the group of ships protecting the northern approach to Tulagi and Savo Islands (consisted of USS Astoria CA-34, USS Quincy CA-39 and HMAS Canberra) were caught by surprise when a Japanese cruiser task force commanded by Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa came upon them in the dark of night (at 01:55 am). Highly trained and proficient in night combat, the Japanese attacked and within minutes had all four ships heavily damaged, burning and sinking after opening fire with guns and Long Lance (Type 93) torpedoes. Vincennes sustained massive hits from the Japanese cruisers setting her on fire and presenting an even easier target for the IJN torpedomen to aim for. Vincennes was struck by two Type 93 torpedoes near her main spaces and she began to take on water. Fifty-five minutes later, USS Vincennes disappeared beneath the waves (at 02:50). It is not clear whether MM 1/c Gaultney made it into the water or went down with the ship though the latter is more likely considering his work space was struck by one of the torpedoes. The resulting explosion and ensuing flooding made it nearly impossible for the men who managed the propulsion systems to survive the damage let alone escape.

Some time after receiving the official notifications from the Navy (or War) Department, Mr. and Mrs. Gaultney would have been presented with their sons’ posthumous decorations (which were, most likely Purple Heart Medals). A third medal would have been presented to Mr. Gaultney in 1945 leaving him with three engraved medals – one for each son. Hopefully, all three medals have remained within the family, handed down and preserved to ensure that the memories of each of the Gaultney boys and the immense sacrifice made by this family is never forgotten.  It wouldn’t be unheard of for the family to have let go of the pain of terrible loss by divesting the reminders or simply tucking them away from sight. Under such circumstances, families have been known to give Purple Heart medals (PHM) away, sell or even discard them. It wouldn’t be surprising to discover that the Gaultney medals are preserved as part of a militaria collection.

The boxed American Defense Service Medal and liberty card group from USS Vincennes (CA-44) survivor, Fireman 3/c Charles Henry Findlay.

USS Vincennes (CA-44) survivor, Charles H. Findlay, Fireman 3/c (image source: imthistory.org).

Collecting artifacts such as Purple Heart medals from service members who were killed in action is not something that interests many collectors due to the sensitive nature of the pieces and the pain and suffering (for both the one who was lost and their surviving family members) that is represented with the decorations. Though I have personal awards and decorations from sailors who served aboard the Vincennes, the pieces that I have are from two men who survived and the medals are not PHMs.

Several years ago, I was able to land a small group from a sailor, Fireman Third Class Charles Henry Findlay, who served aboard the heavy cruiser Vincennes from March of 1941 and survived its sinking. The two pieces in the group include one of his decorations, the American Defense Service Medal (ADSM) and a liberty card issued to the young sailor. One aspect of this group that collectors must keep in mind is that the ADSM is not engraved or marked with the recipient’s name (they are never personalized) which makes this particular medal difficult to prove that it was specifically awarded to Findlay.

Listed among the survivors, Fireman 3/c Findlay made it through the battle and sinking and went on to fight the enemy, serving aboard the USS Santa Fe.

What became of Fireman Findlay after being rescued from the waters that would be dubbed, “Iron Bottom Sound?” He, along with more than 50 of his USS Vincennes shipmates, were assigned to the USS Santa Fe (CL-60), a Cleveland Class light cruiser that was commissioned in November of 1942.

Though the aged and worn Navy Good Conduct Medal (NGCM) has been long separated from its suspension, drape and brooch, this medal, awarded to Seaman First Class William John Wennberg in 1939 is a great piece for my USS Vincennes (CA-44) collection. Seaman Wenneberg enlisted into the Navy on October 8, 1935 from his hometown in Chicago, Illinois, though he shown reporting aboard the Vincennes on February 24, 1937 (which corresponds with the ship’s commissioning date making him a plankowner), sixteen months after his navy career began. No muster sheets are available for Wennberg which makes his career path difficult to track until he shows up again as he reported to Receiving Ship New York on December 13, 1941, the day after he began his second enlistment. It appears that he spent a few years out of the Navy, living in New York (according to records discovered on Ancestry) and was married. Wennberg was assigned to another cruiser, USS Columbia (CL-56), the second ship of the Cleveland Class light cruisers. William Wennberg remained a seaman (equivalent to today’s E-3) from 1937 until 1945 (except for his two year break in service) when he was serving aboard the new heavy cruiser, USS Bremerton (CA-130) when he was rated as a Ship’s Serviceman Laundry 1/c.

An interesting aside, both Findlay and Wennberg served aboard Cleveland Class light cruisers following their time aboard the Vincennes. Though the coincidence isn’t that significant, the Navy chose to return the name Vincennes to the Pacific as leaders re-named the under-construction USS Flint (CL-64) to USS Vincennes, the tenth light cruiser of the 27 Cleveland Class warships. “Vincennes” and hundreds of her survivors were surviving crew were back in the fight.

For the Gaultney family, the war was over with their notification of David’s death on Iwo Jima though the grief from their terrible loss would never cease. In December of 2018, a pair of Illinois state republicans (state Senator Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and Representative Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth) sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 65 which was to name the portion of I-74 that runs through Le Roy, Illinois the Gaultney Brothers Memorial Highway. The resolution passed unanimously in both the Illinois Senate and House, as reported by the Pantograph newspaper on December 31st.

Collecting, for me, focuses upon telling the story of those who can no longer do so for themselves. Preserving and displaying along with researching and documenting artifacts from service men and women helps to preserve their memories as does renaming a stretch of well-traveled highway does.

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Upper Deck Has Moved Beyond Cutting Up Baseball Artifacts as They Bring their Shears and Saws to Bear Upon Militaria


History is precious. Humanity can use history and apply its lessons to today’s situations in order to build a potential for a better future and avoid the trappings and pratfalls that were experienced by our predecessors. Aside from the knowledge that is gained by preserving historical accounts and narratives, making contact with the relics and artifacts from those bygone eras of our past can be transformative for many. Most don’t realize that there is a large percentage among society who, whether they realize it themselves or not, enjoy preserving and maintaining tangible history among their personal possessions. 

Holding and touching a relic, despite its historical significance, whether it is a family heirloom or a piece that is connected to a significant event can draw a person into a mindset of desiring to understand more about the item, who it originally belonged to and what was taking place in that space in time. The quest for knowledge that an encounter with an artifact launches is impactful, if not addictive once the first discovery is unearthed (that can and often does lead to a string of revelations) leading to that individual becoming a steward of history and artifacts. 

For many, preserving these pieces means that precautions need to be taken in order preserve the items their present state and condition. Stabilizing a piece that has many decades of decay and destabilization already in progress is a challenge and can be a costly endeavor. Other collectors, try to perform a measure of restoration that will set a piece into a particular state, undoing the damage of improper storage or they may be repairing what was done by treasure-seekers (removing portions from the item that were, perhaps seen as valuable) by replacing a missing element. 

Prices of artifacts (when they are listed or sold) are seldom mentioned on The Veteran’s Collection in order to keep the focus on the pieces rather than the monetization of history. Also, values are relative and highly subjective from one collector to the next. A person with very deep pockets and who may not be as knowledgeable about the individual artifact, whether it is scarce, rare or fairly common may tend to employ emotions to their purchasing decision and synthetically inflate the prices for certain types of artifacts or genres of collecting. Some collectors are more focused on discovering areas of investment seeking a return on their capital outlay rather than to be a steward of history which presents increased opportunity for negative results, both for the individual and for collectors. 

The card that launched Upper Deck’s entry into destroying rare artifacts for profit; a card with a piece of Babe Ruth’s bat from the 1920s (source: eBay Image).

The desire and perceived need to possess pieces of history are only two of the wide-ranging and numerous contributing factors motivating collectors to seek out artifacts. These two are, perhaps what some companies like Carlsbad, California’s Upper Deck Company are counting upon. Since its founding and subsequent first release of baseball cards in 1989, Upper Deck has been an innovator, turning the industry on its side beginning with the inclusion of actual autographed premium cards in its sets in the early 1990s, contributing to the company’s immediate successes. Other card companies followed suit pushing Upper Deck to seek other innovations. In 1996, Upper Deck began what still remains as a controversial move by acquiring jerseys from (then) popular stars of sports in order to cut them into pieces and affixed to premium insert cards. The direct results were increased sales as collectors sought the cards in packs, buying them by the case while others paid exorbitant prices on secondary markets. Despite the scoffs and disdain of sports collectibles at the idea of destroying historic artifacts, Upper Deck leadership decided to up the ante in 1998. 

In 1998, Upper Deck purchased a game-used, albeit cracked (by the Bambino, himself) 1920s era baseball bat for the sole purpose of cutting it into bits and distributing it on premium cards. Yes, the bat was theirs to do with as they pleased but to destroy an historic artifact for profit is certainly a justifiable reason for vocal objection by fans, historians and museum curators. While one could assert that Upper Deck did the collector market a favor by making the remaining Ruth bats more desirable and a little bit rarer, the idea that the intentional destruction of an artifact for profit is a hard pill for many to swallow. Undeterred by the negative reaction, the increased demand and furor surrounding the Ruth inserts served as an enabling of Upper Deck as they pressed further into this market, extending the pieces of the game concept across all of the sports in which they participated. Upper Deck launched other business ventures into the collectibles market apart from trading cards that included vintage and game–used memorabilia, autographs and authentication services. The practice of cutting up historical objects for profit, continued. 

Folks who dabbled in the sports card industry in the 1990s are still stinging from the over-saturation of card sets (standards, mid-level, premiums with each having insert specialty offerings) rendering all but a fractional percentage of those produced with any collector interest and perceived value. Quite literally, tons of the cardboard printed in the 1990s and into the 2000s is worth only its weight in recyclability and millions of collectors are left to turn up their noses at the mere mention of sports cards from this period. In 2009, the company that “revolutionized” the industry with innovations (both good and bad) was unceremoniously ejected when their Major League Baseball license was not renewed as the long-time card company, Topps (established in 1938 as Topps Chewing Gum, Inc.) negotiated exclusive rights as the sole baseball card company. In 2010, Upper Deck lost its National Football League license as the two parties were unable to negotiate a licensing agreement. The rapid rise and descent of the Upper Deck Company as a baseball card power is quite notable.  

Another section of the American Civil War Union Flag destroyed by Upper Deck (image source: Upper Deck Company).

With their exit from baseball and football, Upper Deck launched (or, re-launched) the Goodwin Champions brand in an attempt to capitalize on an historic early 20th Century tobacco-card product line which opened the door to a new arena for the company (autographs of notable people from sports, history and pop-culture, dominate the sets). Venturing into other areas with this brand, Upper Deck has delved several times into the genre of selling historical artifacts or, in some cases fragments of them. 

A fragment of a United States Army Air Force flight helmet that was destroyed by the Upper Deck Company (image source: Upper Deck Company).

The Upper Deck Goodwin Champions Museum Collection definitely has an appealing ring to the product line’s name – one that conjures thoughts along the lines of preservation, conservation and even public access. In this case, the brand absolutely an oxymoron as the practice of selling artifacts in this manner defies museum practices and governance. In 2014, coinciding with the outbreak of what would become known as World War I, Upper Deck began to tout their forthcoming Museum Collection product line, stating in their August 2014 blog post (titled ”Brag Photo: 2014 Goodwin Champions Museum Collection World War I Exchange Cards”), “Our brand team worked for over a year to procure amazing artifacts from battlefields and private collections for Goodwin Champions Museum Collection World War I cards. Now that they have been completed, it is incredible to see the end result.” The results are certainly incredible – incredibly offending to those who seek to preserve this history.  When one delves into the items being listed and discovers that Upper Deck once again destroyed artifacts, carving the artifacts into bits in order to fit them into heavily branded, gaudy packaging.   

Two years prior, Upper Deck hired a history professor to examine their acquisitions that would soon find their way into a sets of American Civil War artifacts, “Most impressive perhaps is the center piece of the collection – a Union Flag actually flown on the field of conflict. This flag bore witness to the very personal experiences of some of the War’s participants,” claimed Upper Deck on their blog post, “Upper Deck Brings in a Professor to Review Civil War Artifacts in 2012 Goodwin Champions.” Soon after the professor’s authentication, Upper Deck destroyed the flag, cutting it into bits to package and sell.

Many collectors of militaria love to share their collections privately and publicly, taking great pains to create aesthetically pleasing displays and arrangements. Some collectors have dedicated space within their homes that feature stable environmental and lighting conditions in order to delay the decaying process while affording them the ability to share their collections with incredible contextual presentations. It is difficult to imagine seeing a collection of Upper Deck’s butchery-in-slick-packaging proudly organized and presented to admirers.  

Upper Deck certainly is not the first to venture into the destruction of artifacts however they seem to be the organization that has kicked the door wide open for highly inflated prices for somewhat ordinary militaria on the secondary market.  Military collectors, especially those who specialize in specific areas will shake their heads when they see the prices listed by dealers of Upper Deck’s militaria pieces. When one can purchase a matched pair of genuine World War II period correct Eagle, Globe and Anchor (EGA) collar devices for less than $20, imagine their surprise to see an asking price of near $300 for a single EGA that is enclosed in an Upper Deck package.  

A matched pair of WWII vintage EGA devices can be had for $20-30 or one can drop $285 for a single piece wrapped up in branded packaging (image source: Com C).

A few years ago, The Veterans Collection shined a spotlight on another example of military destruction that was, at the time, performed upon donated uniform artifacts that were de-accessioned from the World War II Museum and made into wrist bands the firm, Bands for Arms.  The published “Shredding History” articles consisted of a three-part series (Shredding History or Genuine Fundraising? Part I,Shredding History Part II – Severing the History from the Artifact and Shredding History Part III – Dwindling with Time) regarding the entire process and how the destruction of uniforms was used to turn a profit (part of the proceeds is donated to various veteran-themed charities). 

 If companies like Upper Deck didn’t have eager audiences and willing customers, the act of destroying history would not be profitable. New and future militaria collectors would be better served by immersing themselves into the hobby by connecting with fellow collectors, attending shows and getting out local garage and estate sales in their quests for artifacts. Knowledge and a discerning eye are two of a collector’s most powerful tools that will allow them to uncover some of the most amazing historical discoveries. It is the hope of the Veteran’s Collection to be just one of the tools that collectors can utilize during their quests.

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