Trying to write a short history about militaria collecting in America, is a difficult mission. The hobby was started by US Soldiers bringing back WW2 war trophies. The older Soldiers were not attracted to items from a defeated enemy. They knew what things historically have had value. They brought back clocks, porcelain, silverware, oil paintings and other antiquities. Young Soldiers did not have the same knowledge or concept of value. They were told by their military superiors that they could bring back military items from a defeated enemy. A War Department Circular No 353 outlines the retention of war trophies by American Service Members.
(The first two pictures depicted above describes the introduction and regulations of war souvenirs as stated in the War Department Circular No 353. The last image is of the form soldiers were required to fill out and documented by an Officer in his Chain of Command.)
With millions of US Soldiers being able to legally bring back war souvenirs, such as Corporal Joseph Melos who was packing his souvenirs in the picture below, the interest in the hobby began. I remember when as a young kid I was fascinated by some of the items brought back by dads and uncles of some of my school mates. Sometimes they would bring these items to school for Show and Tell.
The other photos give you an idea as to just how much military equipment was available. After making a selection and amassing a collection the harder part was getting it home. The Army Post Office or APO as it is affectionately called by those of us who have used it was up to the job. The two main Army Post offices to receive and process this material was in New York City for the European Theater and San Francisco, California for the Pacific Theater. One can only imagine the volume of Soldier mail and packages that was processed by these facilities.
An interesting story was told by Garrison Keiler author and humorist, best known for the PBS radio program “The Prairie Home Companion”. Garrison lived in New York City while his father a Soldier worked at the Army Post Office there. He would roam the city learning about the Arts and Entertainment industries that would later become his career.
One of the biggest challenges faced by the Soldier was packaging his collection for shipment. Cardboard boxes were hard to come by in war torn lands so many Soldiers built their own boxes out of wood and painted their addresses on them. It is a delight today to find one of these boxes although I have never been fortunate to find one with the contents intact. A great example of a soldier made box sent home by PFC Bujnak, 83rd Quartermaster, CO., to his home in Cleveland, Ohio