by Kevin A. Golgin
I picked up a flyer for a farm auction in September 2013. I went to auction company’s website to view the photo gallery. They had a photo of a US Army pic, a German canteen, an ammo box, and one US Helmet withe the caption, “Helmets.”
The photo didn’t reveal the era of the helmet of if it even had a liner! But, the ad said, “Helmets”—with an “s” on the end.
Auctioneers have a habit of counting the liner as if they have two helmets. My first thought was, “If I get the helmet, I will have to bid again to get the liner!”
Waiting for the auction, I discovered there was a local gun show scheduled on the same day. Darn! It was “decision time.” The weather was so nice, I knew, even if I got nothing at the auction, I would enjoy a perfect day. “Auction on!”
No sooner had I arrived and went around one of the barns did I see about 20 WWII US helmets laying in the grass—shells only, no liners. When I went around the other barns, I found three more stray helmets. After an hour or so as I was making my way back to the start, I spotted the mother lode: 76 more helmets stacked like cord wood! Like all the others, these had no liners.
This batch of helmets had been stored for so long, the shells were stuck inside each other. No one could get them apart, so they were auctioned “by the stack.”
The helmets had all been stored with the chin straps buckled to the back. That made it easy for me to make a quick look for a snap sewn to the strap. No luck—no “paratrooper helmets!” In one stack, however, I could see at least seven or eight were MP helmets. I ended the day buying 93 of the 99 helmets.
I had the chance to talk to the veteran’s widow. She said her husband had been a Jeep driver in Italy during WWII. When he came home, he joined the American Legion where he became the Post Commander. He went to a military surplus auction in 1948-9 to buy a Jeep to use in their parades. He came home with a Jeep and the helmets. She told me the helmets in the barn were extras —there hadn’t been enough liners for Post to use them.
When I returned home, I made up an oak tapping stick with a rubber end. I started to gently bump apart the helmets.
This is where the fun began. I sat there for three hours, tapping. It took about 2-3 minutes for each one. Every helmet I separated was a possible hidden treasure. And there were some:
*14 MP helmets
*2 welded Majors’ helmets
*4 Lieutenants’ (2 painted, 2 medical tape)
*1 officer’s (painted vertical stripe on back)
*1 medical helmets
*2 camouflaged helmets
All had front seams. 38 of the 93 had fixed loops. The MP helmets had either small or large “MP” lettering. The painted stripes were all individually done, varying in length and width.
Only three were Schuelter-made. Each of these was an MP helmet.
62 of the helmets still had the factory paint. The rest had been repainted (mostly by brush). Only one had a ball release connector on the chinstrap.
The most amazing thing for me was that there was little to no competition bidding on these helmets! Where were Pete, John and George—my usual “auction shadows?” They were all at the gun show!