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 (SHAEF). The youngster hoped that responses from either of those men would give his display the impact 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 will be 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 doubtless 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 Dplus-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, 1944, 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.” Paraphrasing 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.”

THE FÜHRER’S FIREARM

A gun thought to have been a presentation gift to Adolf Hitler and liberated by a member of the 101st Airborne Division has been auctioned online by Midwest Exchange of Illinois. A bidding frenzy over the undocumented weapon pushed the hammer price to just over $140,000 at the auction’s close on February 9, 2006.

The gun was manufactured in 1931 by the Krieghoff Gun Company, a sporting firearms manufacturer founded in the 1880s. The gun was referred to as a “drilling” and consisted of a double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun coupled with an 8mm rifle barrel. The gun’s receiver carried elaborate high-relief engravings of a woodland scene complete with deer and stag.

The gun alone had an estimated value of around $7,000, but the initials “AH,” engraved near the bottom of the trigger guard, generated immense worldwide media and collector interest and drove the firearm’s estimated pre-auction value into the $50,000 range.

While there was no firm evidence that the gun belonged to Hitler, the drilling was thought to have been a prewar gift to him. In a letter to the gun’s American owners, author and Krieghoff authority Randall Gibson wrote: “While Hitler was a vegetarian and not known to be a hunter, this does not mean that such a weapon was not given to him as a gift. [The] son of Heinrich Krieghoff related to me that his father demonstrated a semiautomatic rifle at Swansee in 1934 in an attempt to secure military contracts. In attendance were [Rudolf] Hess, [Paul von] Hindenberg, Hitler and [Hermann] Göring. Heinrich Krieghoff could very well have presented on [sic] of his much esteemed drillings to these high ranking officials, each weapon with the respective attendee’s initials on it.”

A comparable Krieghoff drilling with similar scenic engravings and the initials “HG” currently resides in a private German collection. Gibson and the owner of that gun believe the initials stand for Hermann Göring. Krieghoff received a contract to produce some 10,000 Luger pistols for the Luftwaffe shortly after the Swansee meeting.

The alleged Hitler drilling was originally purchased in 1945 by U.S. Army 1st Lt. Robert Lucas, who was managing a mess hall in Paris when the war in Europe ended. It had been sold to Lucas by a visiting member of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, who had been reassigned to the Pacific theater. The unnamed 506th PIR trooper was apparently unable to ship the weapon home due to weight and space restrictions and had allegedly found it in May 1945 while deployed in the area of Hitler’s mountaintop Eagle’s Nest retreat.

Lucas brought the gun home after he was discharged, admitted to using it on several hunting trips, and kept it under his bed for safekeeping. He often told his family how he acquired the gun but was unaware of the possible Hitler connection. Lucas died on October 31, 1993.

Part proceeds of the sale were to be donated to the Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism. League officials indicated that they would have preferred the gun be given to a museum to prevent it from falling into the hands of Nazi sympathizers.

TAPS

Romano Mussolini, the son and last living offspring of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, died on February 3, 2006, at age 78. Romano was the fourth of the dictator’s five children. He had been hospitalized with gall bladder and kidney problems shortly before his death.

Romano was born on September 26, 1927, in the Po Valley. He studied music as a child and had an affinity for jazz, while his father preferred classical music. Mussolini was an amateur violinist and often accompanied his son when he played the piano. According to the online edition of The Independent, Romano said: “My father was an excellent violinist…[he] particularly liked classical music, but he heard a lot of jazz too because that was what we played. We talked more about art than politics.” Romano last saw his father in April 1945. According to the Associated Press, “Keep playing” were the last words Benito said to his then 17-year-old son.

Inspired by his idol Scott Petersen, Romano indulged in jazz after the war, playing under the assumed name Romano Full in the Naples area. In the mid-1950s he formed a trio, and in 1956 he signed a record deal with RCA. In the ’60s he reverted to his real name.

The Romano Mussolini All Stars was one of Italy’s foremost bands, and in 1963 it won the Italian critics’ album of the year award. Romano played music with some of the biggest names in the jazz field, including such greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and Chet Baker.

In 2004 Romano published My Father, Il Duce. In the book, Romano portrayed his dad as a doting father who cried at a daughter’s wedding. He admitted in the book that he shared his father’s political views and stated that anti-Semitic attitudes “were not in Italians’ or my father’s nature.” Many critics panned the book as an attempt at revisionist history.

Romano had two daughters from his first marriage to Anna Maria Scicolone, the sister of actress Sophia Loren. One daughter, Alessandra, is the leader of Alternativa Sociale, a small Italian right-wing political party. Romano later fathered a third child with his second wife, actress Carla Puccini.

 

Originally published in the June 2006 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.