NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – As the years pass there are fewer and fewer World War II veterans left to tell their stories. But some dedicated collectors are using weapons of war as a window into the past, to keep the veterans’ memories alive.
Fort Worth’s Veterans Day parade was a long line of chanting Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) groups, active and retired military leaders rumbling motorcycles. But a procession of authentic World War II Jeeps complete with fully uniformed World War II personnel stood out from the rest. These military collectors have one foot in the past and one in the present — and that is exactly the way they want it.
Members agonize over the details — not just on their vehicles, but also in their uniforms, weapons and accessories. There are touches like the heavy towrope wrapped around the front bumper of one vehicle and a small painting of a driver’s wife painted below the windscreen of another.
Raul Duran is named after an uncle who was shot down over Germany and sent to a POW camp. “No one knew the story until I asked him, ‘Tell me what you did in World War II’,” Duran said. “It was like opening a floodgate. He pulled out documents. He pulled out drawings and poems and things like that that he had kept in the prison camp.”
It was that moment when Duran realized the power that touching the past can have. “It was very light and it was issued to jeep drivers,” he said as he handled a small .30 caliber carbine used to accessorize his Willy’s Jeep.
From canvas belts to ammunition belts, the tools of war are now tools for history lessons.
“The Army only expected to use it for a month. [It] would be good and they’d throw it away and get another one,” one Jeep owner told a curious onlooker who stopped to admire the 70 year old vehicle.
It’s more than military hardware. They’re items giving insight into a GI’s life 70 years ago. Another example is a Government Issue baseball glove that would have been like gold to a soldier, which is now very well worn. It’s leather webbing stretched from use. Even though it is far smaller than baseball gloves now, it is a familiar item that automatically draws a connection between now and then.
“You know, Ted Williams was in World War II,” Duran said as he slid his hand into the glove laughing. “I wonder if he could have worn this glove? Who knows?”
One of Duran’s coworkers, Barbara Boone, decided to participate, for the first time, along with her son. She was dressed as a French partisan and her son as a refugee. It was a chance for Boone to teach her son what it means when she says, ‘Your grandfather was in World War II.”
“I think its great,” Boone said. “I want him to understand our history and what the men and women fought for and why the U.S. stands.”
Duran doesn’t know — or at least won’t say — what his collection is worth. But to him it is priceless. “It’s a wealth of opportunity for someone to open the door to history.”
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