A sailor’s story
A certain solemnity seemed to have settled over the military memorabilia laid out on the auction table. These were once some man’s treasures – photos and a sailor’s log from his travels, his garrison caps, an old tattered flag that even the auctioneer could not identify.
They were all from World War II, relics he tucked away decades ago, likely uncovered by family once he passed away. Here they were now, like the countless other Army or Navy remnants I come across pretty often at auctions – papers ready to be picked up and tossed down, photo-album pages primed to be flipped and flipped and flipped again, odds-and-ends waiting to be nudged about in wooden trinket boxes.
Us auction buyers like digging around in other people’s lives. And it seems that families give us a lot of military items to look over. Too bad. There ought to be a place other than an auction table where families can unload this stuff.
For me, one of the most interesting things about this lot was the owner: an African American soldier. I’ve come across a few such lots before, but not many and not often. (On another table was a album of military photos of a white soldier.) I’m fascinated because I know from history that it wasn’t easy for black soldiers in the early wars.
In most of the items I come across, soldiers are pretty clear in writing their names on the ephemera. But not this one. His lot contained a log of his military travels, filled with names and rankings, but it was unclear which was his. Near the front was background information on someone – a birthdate, place of birth, etc. – but not a name. At the back of the book was more detailed information with an actual name, but was it him?
The sailor’s log indicated that perhaps he was in the Navy. It included a list of places he’d been: Burma, Arabia, Egypt, India, Australia, the Philippines, China, North Africa, the United States.
The items came from “one guy’s estate,” the auctioneer said once he got around to the table of items, which had drawn a lot of attention of early lookers.
But the items didn’t precipitate very high bids. Here’s what was on the table and how much bidders paid for them:
Old photos of soldiers in uniforms and some family photos. There was a neat photo of people on what looked to be a fishing boat called “Cap Russell.” There are houses in the background near the shore. For a fuller view, click on the photo at left. $5
A Sinclair Refinery book, where he apparently worked at some point. $5
A set of 10 Jet magazines. They were from 1963 to 1971. The mags included articles about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his family, John and Robert Kennedy, and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. They were near the soldier’s items, and I’m assuming they were his. I bought them for $10.
A sailor’s log and garrison caps, including a VFW cap. Click on photo of log book above to see a fuller view. $25.
An early British stamp. The auctioneer called it a #1 stamp worth $140. It sold for $7.
A white flag with the number 468 and the letter L, with an Eagle and a wheel of stars in the center – which baffled most of us. It had a few holes and some damage. Bidding started at $50 and ended at $70.
Photos from Burma and India and other places, military photos and photos of his command group. One buyer I talked to before the auction was especially enamored with the black and white photos of native peoples, perhaps because of their vintage appeal and exotic flavor. They were posed shots, seemingly taken by someone just fascinated with a people he had never seen before. And the people stood there stoically, perhaps just as curious about him. There were lots of these photos. The bidding started at $60, and they all sold for $80.
Rest of items, including a box of lighters, buttons and other small items. $17.