WWII and the Human Experience: Artifacts

Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

G. Kurt Piehler, PhD, Director, Institute on World War II and the Human Experience:

 

The Human Experience of WWII was comprised of separate installations brought together from generous lenders such as Dr. Patrick Rowe (The Design of War and the Bill Mauldin Collection) and the Oliver L. Austin, Jr., Slide Collection curated by Dr. Annika Culver, as well as selections from the Ringling Museum’s Coville Collection united with photographic collections from the Institute by Curator Chris Jones to create Witness to War. With such fine colleagues, the Institute personnel examined the archetypal methodology and organization of many traditional museums. We had a number of questions: For instance, how can we exhibit causes, effects, and concepts by way of objects? How do we evoke the human experience of World War II through artifacts? Will the public respond favorably to our choices and interpretation? How do museums deal with contested historical issues such as repatriation of war trophies, and personal items belonging to a former enemy, such as Japanese flags embossed with the names of friends and relatives? What is the contemporary relevance and future of World War II museums?

 

Underlying the exhibition with its accentuation on the physical vestiges of World War II are the connections between war and society and the integration of physical objects into displays as manifestations of cultural history. Previously, many museums simply acted as repositories for disparate military hardware such as guns, uniforms, and vehicles. This exhibition seeks to integrate such materials into a larger narrative that highlights the power of an object in the context of the human experience during World War II with the hope of achieving the optimal method of extracting such power in a museum gallery. The intended goal of twenty-first century museum approaches is to highlight the personal and human experiences of a wide range of military personnel and civilians who were thrust into a global conflict of unparalleled scale and scope. Underlying this exhibition are connections between war and society and material culture that are exemplified through the integration of physical objects as manifestations of cultural history. We of the Institute on World War II and the Museum of Fine Arts at Florida State University hope that this larger, global narrative will reveal the power of the object in the context of the human experience of war and that such individual stories will interest visitors of all ages.

G.K.P.

 

  The artifacts and historic photographs of the Institute on WWII have been photographed by Jon Nalon, Tallahassee, Florida.

 

The artifacts and historic photographs of Patrick M. Rowe have been photographed by Christopher White, Pensacola, Florida.

Gas mask made in the United States, probably around 1943, by the Mine Safety Appliances Company (MSA) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is the second version of the US M1-1-5 Optical Gas Mask and was made in very limited quantities primarily for service personnel who had to use optical equipment during a gas attack. Snipers and Ships Captains would have carried this type of mask. William Byrd Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University.
William Byrd was working in Jacksonville, Florida, for Railway Express when he left in 1943 to join the US Marine Corps. He was trained at Parris Island in South Carolina, Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, San Diego, and Camp Catlin in Hawaii. He served as a radar operator primarily in Okinawa. He was discharged from the US Marine Corps in March of 1946.

Nurse cape: the Navy nurse’s cape of June Husband Harrison, made of heavy wool, was distributed by the Naval Uniform Shop at the Navy Clothing Depot in Brooklyn, New York. It has a velvet collar with a dark maroon lining. The “frog” closure differs from the more commonly used double placket with buttons. June Harrison served in the US Navy as a nurse during World War II from 1943 to 1946. She was inducted at Farragut, Idaho, and discharged at McAlester, Oklahoma; Harrison ultimately achieved the rank of Lieutenant (jg). June Husband Harrison Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University.

Graflex Corp., Pacemaker Speed Graphic 4x5 camera, c. 1947 (model c. 1943), metal, plastic, and glass. Charlotte Mansfield Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University.

Cigarette lighter. John F. Serio Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University. John F. Serio was inducted into the Army Air Forces on October 6, 1942 and served in New Guinea and Southern Philippines as a cryptographic technician. The cigarette case was made from the metal of a downed Japanese plane by an Australian soldier, who gave it to Serio in New Guinea in 1942. Serio was honorably discharged on December 5, 1945

K-Rations. The K-ration was pre-packaged individual combat food and was supplied for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The first million K-rations were ordered in May 1942, and by 1944, the peak year of production, more than 105 million rations were procured. Although the K rations were to be used for only two or three days, troops often had to rely on them for weeks at a time, and this decreased their initial popularity. P. Gordon Earhart Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University. Gordon Earhart served as an infantryman and water purification specialist in the Pacific Theater. He participated in the landing at Lingayen Gulf in January of 1945 and served in the Occupation of Japan. He was discharged in February 1946 and later attended college on the GI Bill.

Cigarette books from the Collections of Gilbert W. Johnson and Paul K. Dougherty at the Institute on WWII, Florida State University.
Gilbert Johnson was in the US Navy and was stationed in the Caribbean, China, Europe and the Pacific. Paul K. Dougherty served as a photographer

USO recording. Phillip Berman Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University.

Folding trench shovel with pick. The folding shovel/pick combination, of the type seen here, was designed in 1945 but was not produced on a wide scale before the war ended. Many shovels were retrofitted with the pick assembly so shovels with earlier production dates are often found with a pick. This shovel does not have a production date or place imprinted on it. Lloyd McDuffie Hicks, Jr., Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University. Lloyd Hicks, of Bradenton, Florida, completed Officer Candidate School in 1942, and training at the Armored Forces School at Fort Knox, Kentucky where he received special instruction in the Gunnery Department in the use and repair of weapons. He became a liaison officer with the famed 2nd Armored Division, 41st Armored Infantry Regiment and took part in the Battle for France in 1944. For meritorious service during that time he was awarded the Bronze Star

Japanese binoculars and case. George Wiszneauckas Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University.
The binoculars used by the Japanese Imperial Navy were produced by the Japanese Optical Industries Corporation (Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha), which is known today as Nikon. Before the development of radar later in the war, naval commanders attempting to locate the enemy typically had to rely on observations from personnel standing watch on deck or by dispatching search planes. Radio surveillance also served as another tool for trying to track the movement of the enemy fleets. The Japanese fleet heading to Hawaii in December 1941 maintained strict radio silence and this allowed it to deliver a devastating surprise attack on the American fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor.
George Wiszneauckas served with the US Army Signal Corps from 1941-1946 and participated in the campaign to liberate the Philippines. He obtained these high-powered binoculars while taking part in the Occupation of Japan

Items used by Loren Fink during his time as a POW in Germany. Loren Fink Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University.
Loren Fink served in the 366th Bomb Squadron, 8th Air Force, and participated in several bombing campaigns over Norman- dy, Northern France, and Central Europe. On October 14, 1943, during a campaign over the German city of Schweinfurt, Fink was shot down and taken as a Prisoner of War. Fink would remain a POW for nine- teen months and nine days until being turned over to the American Army in Halle, Germany nine days before the end of the war. Fink would later be discharged on November 15, 1945.

Trench Art – Finish etched shell casing
by Giles O. Lofton
Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

Megaphone for Japanese Civil Defense Unit (1943)
Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

Pillow cover from Bainbridge Air Field, Georgia
Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

Japanese armband. Brokaw / Richard L. Shively Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University.
Richard L. Shively was trained as a bombardier at the Great Lakes and in San Diego and served at Midway and Guadalcanal in the Pacific. He earned the Purple Heart and Silver Star, awarded for valor after being shot three times by a Japanese floatplane. Shively’s items came to the Institute on World War II as part of the Tom Brokaw Collection. The Japanese armband is a relic Shively retrieved from combat with Japanese forces on the Lunga River on Guadalcanal in 1942. The flag on the left represented the Japanese Navy while the flag on the right was the Japanese National flag. The Japanese calligraphy on the left means “bravery,” while that on the right signifies “loyalty.”

Nazi helmet. Dr. Louis S. Moore Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University.
The Nazi helmet has a bullet hole at the front and an exit opening at the back that would indicate that the soldier wearing it suffered a deadly head wound. A small stain on the helmet liner appears to be blood. The lack of a unit decal on the helmet indicates that it is probably an M1942 German helmet that never received a factory branch insignia. Such helmets are typically found with a 1943 or 1944 date on the helmet liner band. This one has only the number 58 on the liner band that may be the lot number of its production group.
Little is known of Dr. Louis Moore’s experiences during World War II as his collection was delivered to the Institute on World War II by a third party. From the artifacts in his collection, it is apparent that he served in the European Theater.

Nazi belt buckle. Dr. Louis S. Moore Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University.
The German Nazi belt buckle is of steel construction and has a pebbled surface. It includes two ropes forming the central de- sign filled in with an eagle clutching the emblematic swastika. The words “GOTT MIT UNS” between the circular ropes translates to “God With Us.”
Little is known of Dr. Louis Moore’s experiences during World War II as his collection was delivered to the Institute on World War II by a third party. From the artifacts in his collection, it is apparent that he served in the European Theater.

Dog tags with silencer. The dog tag is encircled with a rubber edge called a silencer, an innovation developed later in the war which prevented the dog tags, issued in pairs, from making noises as they rubbed against each other, possibly alerting a nearby enemy during field combat. Robert L. Bounds Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University. Robert Bounds was inducted into the service in 1942 in Philadelphia. He had anti-aircraft training at Paris Island and was later assigned to the 5th Amphibious Division where he saw action in multiple areas of the South Pacific, most notably in the Marianna Islands from 1943-1945.
Dog tag: P on the bottom right corner indicates Protestant. Lawrence Salley Stokes Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University. Lawrence Stokes served in the 933rd Engineer Aviation Regiment in the US Army after training at Camp Blanding, Florida and Geiger Field, Washington. He was an Aviation Engineer in the Pacific Theater.
Dog tags: O for blood type and H is for Hebrew, indicating that a soldier was Jewish. Later in the war, the H was changed to J for Jewish servicemen. Wolfson's dogtag was typical of many servicemen. Wilfred Wolfson Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University. Wilfred Wolfson trained for the military in the ROTC at the University of Florida and was inducted into the US Army at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1941. He served with the Army’s Americal Division that reinforced the First Marine Division in combat against the Japanese Imperial Forces at Guadalcanal and for which they received a Navy Presidential Unit Citation in 1943. Wolfson eventually attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

GI helmet with green netting and information tag. Randall Watson Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University. Netting or mesh was used on the helmets for various reasons. It was attached to the helmet by a rubber band with the edges either tucked into the helmet or hanging loosely. The netting helped reduce the glare reflecting off the surface of the helmet. With the net- ting loosely draped below the rubber band, the shape of the head, face and neck were less obvious to the enemy. The netting was also used to attach foliage to the helmet for camouflage. The instructions that came with the helmet netting warned the soldiers “to avoid wearing too much camouflage foliage at a time on helmet.” Randall Watson, whose father was a ball turret gunner during World War II, grew up listening to his father’s stories about the war. As an adult, he became a collector of World War II memorabilia some of which he has donated to the Institute on World War II. His collection, including this camouflage M-1940 steel helmet with mesh covering, contains items from various military services.

GI helmet with green netting and information tag. Randall Watson Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University. Netting or mesh was used on the helmets for various reasons. It was attached to the helmet by a rubber band with the edges either tucked into the helmet or hanging loosely. The netting helped reduce the glare reflecting off the surface of the helmet. With the net- ting loosely draped below the rubber band, the shape of the head, face and neck were less obvious to the enemy. The netting was also used to attach foliage to the helmet for camouflage. The instructions that came with the helmet netting warned the soldiers “to avoid wearing too much camouflage foliage at a time on helmet.” Randall Watson, whose father was a ball turret gunner during World War II, grew up listening to his father’s stories about the war. As an adult, he became a collector of World War II memorabilia some of which he has donated to the Institute on World War II. His collection, including this camouflage M-1940 steel helmet with mesh covering, contains items from various military services.

Walkie Talkies. The walkie-talkie, originally called a handy-talkie, was also known as the SCR-536. Developed by the predecessor of the Motorola Company, it was the smallest of Signal Corps radio and transmitter sets in World War II. The unit was battery operated with plug in crystals and coils to control the frequency of the receiver and transmitter. The antenna was a forty-inch telescoping rod that allowed the unit a range of about 1 mile over land and up to 3 miles over water. The rod also served as an on/off switch. Norm Hyne Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University. The nephew of Norm Hyne donated this walkie-talkie to the Institute on World War II after his uncle’s death. Although Hyne participated in World War II, little is known of his specific service during the war.

Shrapnel. These examples of shrapnel were donated by Vahnan Ouzoovian, who served in the European Theater of Operations. They include anti-aircraft shells of British manufacture, a rib from a V-1 “buzz bomb,” parts from a German V-2 rocket and flak, all found in London. Vahnan Ouzoovian Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University.

Division sweetheart charm bracelet. Chaloupka Collection of the Institute on WWII, Florida State University.

Credits: Story

THE COLLECTIONS OF THE INSTITUTE ON
WORLD WAR II AND THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE


As the years following World War II came and went, a multitude of veterans were increasingly willing to divulge their stories. Retirement and the sense of their own mortality encouraged many to grapple with the remarkable events of their youth. In addition, grandchildren often expressed an interest in the artifacts of their grandfathers, such as the uniforms and letters found while clearing out attics and basements. They also found interested audiences for their stories and receptivity that was unthinkable during the tumultuous 1960s. The senior leaders of the Vietnam War were World War II veterans, and the term “Greatest Generation” was the last label such leaders could have expected to be bestowed amid widespread anti-war sentiments. In the 1980s, popular mini-series like Herman Wouk’s “Winds of War” (1983) captivated Americans and renewed interest in the conflict: so, too, did the 1984 D-Day Anniversary. By the 1990s, the passions surrounding the Vietnam War that had so divided the World War II generation from the Baby Boomers had cooled. The work that helped define this new appreciation of the World War II generation was Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation (1998).

The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, founded in 1997 through Florida State University’s Department of History, emerged out of this wave of popular interest to preserve the human dimension of the Second World War. Despite voluminous writings on the campaigns of that war and on the major personalities of the time, the war’s profound impact on the individual American man and woman had largely been left uncharted by the end of the 20th century. The primary raison d’être of the Institute is to rectify that deficiency and provide a centralized collection for research on questions related to the human experience of World War II.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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