The Making of Two WWII Memorabilia Collectors
Whenever I meet a collector, the first question that erupts from my mind is, “How did you get interested in ….” I’m fascinated by the process—the how and why and the way. To enhance our upcoming exhibit on the American home front during World War II, Produce for Victory, I asked Bill Given and Terry Reddick to install a military exhibit in the adjacent gallery. People will experience the European and Pacific fronts before entering the Montgomery Gallery to see the home front. As Terry and Bill have been bringing in their uniforms, helmets and other pieces, I’ve been wondering how their passion was ignited.
When Terry was a twelve-year old, he had three experiences that opened the windows of his imagination. First, he was parachuted into combat with a John Wayne war movie. Next he read The Night of Germany, which told the story of the German flying ace, Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron. Lastly, the hook was set when Terry spied an ad for a genuine German Iron Cross in Popular Mechanics. He immediately mailed in his $1.50. Although it turned out to be a fake, Terry’s love of WWII history was anchored for life. His first authentic collectibles came from his father’s friends. Harvey Buker, Harold Nelson and Jim Carr gave him a helmet, medals and other German pieces.
Bill’s fascination began when at age ten he visited an uncle in Columbus. A WWII veteran in the European theatre, Bill’s uncle showed him German steins, bayonets and armbands. In 1974, the uncle’s collection was presented to his attentive nephew, Bill. A year later, Bill met Terry who introduced him to dealers and collectors. Both Terry and Bill’s interest has grown to include all of the American military action from the Civil War to the Viet Nam War, but WWII is still their preferred period.
Terry and Bill love the thrill of the hunt. They add to their collections by attending military shows, antique shops and garage sales. The most productive way is through word of mouth—whether it’s local people or collectors spreading the word. Bill loves speaking at service clubs about his hobby and sharing his love of history with others. Through these engagements, Bill has met “tons of generous people”—too many to name—who have shared their collectibles with him.
Bill and Terry each have their own specialty. For Bill, it’s edged weapons from WWII and the Civil War. Terry’s expertise is in headgear, daggers, medals and declarations. They sometimes trade with each other, with a promise of visitation privileges. When Bill was asked which piece gives him the most pleasure, he responded by giving several: A grouping of Civil War letters and documents from a single family, WWII items from Norm Wright and his father who was a chaplain during the war, and a WWII German honor dagger presented to the widow of a First Gunnery Officer on the Battleship Bismarck. When asked to name his most cherished pieces, Terry was hard put. He loves them all, but finally noted three: a Grim Reaper Squadron Patch from the Army Air Corps, a presentation copy of Mein Kampf, and German and American Air Corps Wings.
Collectors have their own fascinating histories to tell. We’re grateful that Bill and Terry are sharing some of their treasures with our visitors. The Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum’s WWII military exhibit will already be on display for the Civil War Encampment in Roscoe Village the weekend of July 16-17, continuing though September. Maybe this exhibition will fire up another 12-year old’s imagination.