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Bob Hudson

Why Spoils of War?

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I often buy groupings from families who respond to my newspaper ads. Frequently the veteran's effects include German and Japanese items the vet brought home from the war: it can range from a couple of small pieces of insignia to a large box full of flags. banners and what-have-you.

 

The question almost always asked by the family is, "Why did he bring that stuff home?"

 

My answer is, "Because we won! Had we lost, the other guys would have been taking our stuff home as souvenirs, but luckily we got the spoils of war, we got to take their flag, not the other way around"

 

Trophies from a vanquished enemy have probably been coveted by warriors since cavemen went after each other with rocks and sticks. By WWII the practice was a bit more civilized than past practices of putting your enemy's head on a pike, or tying his scalp or ears to your belt (although a couple of skulls made it home from the Pacific War according to some accounts).

 

WWII war correspondent Ernie Pyle is said to have written

 

"The British fight for their homes, the Germans fight for glory and the Americans fight for souvenirs."

 

In 1943 Pyle reported that American GI's were gathering the spoils of battle, long before the war had been won:

 

"NORTHERN TUNISIA, May 8, 1943 – Before the first day of the great surrender on the Bizerte-Tunis front was over, I believe half the Americans in the area had German souvenirs of some sort.

 

There was very little of what one would call looting of German supply dumps. The Germans gave away helmets, goggles and map cases, which they will not be needing anymore. The spoils of war which the average doughboy has on him are legitimate, and little enough recompense for his fighting.

 

Practically every American truck has a German or Italian helmet fastened to its radiator. Our motorcycles are decorated like a carnival, with French flags and the colorful little black-and-yellow death’s-head pennants the Germans use for marking their own mine fields.

Many soldiers have new Lugers in their holsters. Lots of our men clowningly wear German field caps. German goggles are frequently seen on American heads. I got in on the souvenirs, too. I got one memento that is a little gem. It’s an automobile – yep, a real automobile that runs."

 

As Pyle says, these souvenirs were little compensation for the hardships suffered by American warriors, but they must have meant a lot at the moment as the Americans lorded over their conquered enemy. who sat by the side of the road, under guard, stripped of their weapons, helmets, flags and other accoutrements of war.

 

When GI's shipped these souvenirs home, they were not seen as symbols of a mighty Third Reich or an Imperial Emperor - they were prizes extracted from the losers, extracted through tough battles and brutal campaigns.

 

Over the decades these spoils of war have come to be seen, as more than one veteran's family has put to me, as "that yucky German stuff," or words to that effect, but I think the vet, were he still around, might have wanted to read them Ernie Pyle's words, "The spoils of war which the average doughboy has on him are legitimate, and little enough recompense for his fighting."

 

This forum section is not to honor the losers, it's to celebrate the winners and their hard-earned totems of war.



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War trophies are such a part of US military tradition that the Army gathered teams of lawyers to create an official war trophy policy.

 

Here's an excerpt from it, (you can download it all in a PDF - War-Trophies.pdf )

 

wartrophies.jpg



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It's a soldier's right to loot his enemy. This was actively encouraged in the British Army and Royal Navy in the Napoleonic wars.

In basic training we were told we could strip the dead of everything bar wedding rings. My uncle came back from the Falklands war with a heap of gear.

 

Rich


Collector of Fixed bail M1 Helmets

https://m.facebook.com/M1Helmet/

"The dreams of Empire lure the hearts of Kings - and so men die" Burma, 1944

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It's a soldier's right to loot his enemy. This was actively encouraged in the British Army and Royal Navy in the Napoleonic wars.

 

 

Read the thread about the Japanese battleship Nagato: the US Navy did the same sort of encouraging in 1945 http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/165604-japanese-group-from-the-nagato/#entry1255818



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It's a soldier's right to loot his enemy. This was actively encouraged in the British Army and Royal Navy in the Napoleonic wars.

In basic training we were told we could strip the dead of everything bar wedding rings. My uncle came back from the Falklands war with a heap of gear.

 

Rich

 

Yes,to the Conquerer goes the spoils.But I would stop at anything personal that may mean something to the dead fellows' family,such as,but not limited to,photos,journals,or diaries,or anything of that nature.Unless it had some intel value,and could be useful in that way,I would leave the things I mentioned in the hopes that they may make it back to his loved ones.

Some may disagree.That's just me.


High Flight

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silver wings;

Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hovering there

I've chased the shouting wind along and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,

where never lark, or even eagle flew;

and while, with silent, lifting mind I've trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

 

John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

June 9, 1922 – December 11, 1941

 

 

 

" And each man stands with his face in the light of his own drawn sword. Ready to do what a hero can." - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

 

Don't let the B@stards wear you down -"Vinegar" Joe Stillwell

 

 

Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world.Unreasonable

people attempt to adapt the world to themselves.All progress,

therefore, depends on unreasonable people.

George Bernard Shaw

 

 

" Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining" , Fletcher,from the movie "The outlaw Josey Wales"

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Very interesting story and back ground my friend ,,an uncle of mine brought back an Italian 1930s cavalry rifle as his souvenir and i still have it today it just one thing that is like some compesation he felt for what he did and it like a reminder of a positive action he did !!

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Bob, Great piece and insight. Although I had the opportunity to bring back many items from VN, I only brought back a few. In retrospect, I did not bring back what would be most "valuable" to collectors today, but I did bring back several items that were very personal to me at the time and remain so today. I can assure all, that no one in my unit picked up anything to keep with a vindictive attitude, but simply a keepsake from a very emotional moment. I am in no way attempting to speak for anyone else but myself and the other grunts I was with at the time. Indeed most items were quickly passed back for possible intel evaluation. Ken


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Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less."

GEN Robert E. Lee

 

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My grandfather brought back a Luger from the war. It was always displayed prominently in a social place in the household. It was his only war trophy and though he obviously took great pride in it, he would not talk about its origins until just a few years before his death, and I'm not sure I buy the story. But it was all I was left with.

 

He was town clearing in France when he came upon a german officer outside a building. Both soldiers pulled their side arms and let off all the rounds at each other. Miraculously no one was hit and with empty clips they threw their guns at each other. Each picked up the others gun and quickly went on their way.

 

Not sure if I totally buy the story, but I like it none the less. Just thought I would share.



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Always looking for AAC & AAF flight gear. With a focus on Aleutian and ETO theaters.

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The Luger parted ways with the family after my grandfathers death. His wife did not take kindly to our side of the family and ensured we saw none of his things after his death. I only have a few bits of his history that were personally past on from him to me. It is a crying shame but there is nothing I can do about it now.



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Always looking for AAC & AAF flight gear. With a focus on Aleutian and ETO theaters.

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My grandfather brought back a Luger from the war. It was always displayed prominently in a social place in the household. It was his only war trophy and though he obviously took great pride in it, he would not talk about its origins until just a few years before his death, and I'm not sure I buy the story. But it was all I was left with.

 

He was town clearing in France when he came upon a german officer outside a building. Both soldiers pulled their side arms and let off all the rounds at each other. Miraculously no one was hit and with empty clips they threw their guns at each other. Each picked up the others gun and quickly went on their way.

 

Not sure if I totally buy the story, but I like it none the less. Just thought I would share.

Sounds a little bit like that scene in SPR with Hovarth and that German.


Rev. Jake

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Great insight Bob, I appreciate the time and thought behind this. I especially like Ernie Pyles quotes.


"There is no such thing as an expert, only students with different levels of education."
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One of the best examples of how “WE” have changed since the immediate post war years I have ever seen was a bowling shirt.

It was made from a big Nazi state service flag. A large eagle holding a swastika from shoulder to shoulder, so large it’s wing tips were cut off by the sleeves. I am sure that the serviceman who had it made was proud to wear it out bowling just after the war.

How would he be treated now if he did the same.

 

Ancient Greek and Roman coins have images of helmets, armor and whepons from the defeated on them.

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