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There are many places I can visit if I am in search of history – a historic site, library, antique store or museum. Each of these places pretty much guarantees a look at the past through interpretive displays, a guided tour or use of research materials.
A month or so ago, on our "girls day out," I asked my friend, Joyce, if she had visited one of Gallatin Street’s newest businesses – Wildlands Outdoor Equipment. When I received a "no" to my question, we headed that way.
I have a particular interest in this business, because my son, Mathew, is the owner, having opened the store in January.
In addition to all types of camping, hiking and backpacking gear, including food and shelter, the lower floor of the shop contains a large assortment of Army surplus items, ranging from current issue to vintage.
On the day that Joyce and I visited, the first item that grabbed by attention was an Army jacket. As I was discussing with Joyce whether it was from World War I or from World War II, a young man stepped forward to tell me that it had been worn by a veteran of World War II.
He went on to tell me that it was known as an "Ike" jacket, and that the veteran who had worn it served nine years in the military.
“How do you know so much?” I asked, and he told me that he had been in the military and actually had found the jacket in the attic of a house he was cleaning. He then brought the jacket to Wildlands, where it was among the vintage items for sale.
My questions continued, and my knowledge expanded as Tyler Hale took me on a historic tour of this World War II artifact. The soldier, he told me, had served with the 8th Army attached to the 7th Infantry, as evidenced by the patches on the shoulders of the jacket.
He also offered his observation that this veteran had received a field issued promotion because the sergeant stripes on the sleeve were hand sewn. Among the commendations pinned on the jacket was a World War II victory medal.
Our soldier had served in the European theater and was a staff sergeant. He had also seen service during the Korean Conflict. Written in black ink inside the collar was the soldier’s military service number.
As we discussed the wool jacket, another customer entered the store and joined the conversation. Where Tyler had volunteered for service with the Missouri National Guard in January 2010, and served with the 1438 Multi-Role Bridge Co., this man was an older veteran of the Marine Corps.
He confirmed much of what Tyler had told me about the vintage jacket, and then the two veterans began a conversation, using military terms that seemed like a foreign language to me – using mostly military-speak and acronyms.
In addition to U.S. military surplus, the store has examples of Soviet, Czech, Polish, Bulgarian and East German helmets, jackets, etc. I was surprised to learn that the green wool blanket issued to my father in 1942 is still issued to our soldiers. The oldest item in the store currently is a World War I chest pouch.
As I perused the shelves, a white helmet caught my attention, and I followed up my history lesson with Mathew, the go-to guy on vintage military items.
When I asked Mathew about it, he said it was a specialty HALO helmet used for parachuting. HALO means "High Altitude Low Opening," for which the soldier jumped from a high altitude virtually undetected, pulling his cord at a low altitude.
The helmet, manufactured by the Bell Helmet Co., had been converted for use with oxygen, and not only was the name of the soldier who wore the helmet written inside, his name was accompanied by the letters CCT, which stands for Combat Control Team.
Bits and pieces of "his-story" can be found in most places, and the day we visited Wildlands Outdoor Equipment I received a most unexpected history lesson when my attention turned to the green wool jacket worn by a veteran of World War II.