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Start The New Year With Gratitude

It is too easy to go through the week scanning auctions and dealer listings without ever giving a bit of consideration to all the people who make the military collecting hobby such a rewarding passion. From time to time, I have to force myself to consider how grateful I am for the years of gratification I have had in my pursuit of military relics and historic military vehicles. I would like to start the New Year with sharing a bit of my gratitude.

Having grown up with buying, selling and researching military artifacts, it has been too easy to forget all those who contribute to making the hobby such a meaningful, satisfying pursuit. Sitting in an office surrounded by a library of books and many displays of relics didn’t just happen over night, and certainly not as a result of just my own efforts.

We all say, “One of the reasons (or even the main reason) I collect is to ‘honor those who served’.” But how often do we use our collections to actually do that?

I have to confess, I am a pretty private kind of guy, so very few have seen the displays in my office that are, indeed, complemented with labels that preserve the memory of the soldiers who wore the uniforms, received the medals or carried the weapons that line my office walls. Truly, I need to remind myself more often, “I owe extreme gratitude to the men and women who served. Their sacrifice allows me to pursue my hobby.”

Indeed, veterans’ service has guaranteed the freedom to pursue personal interests, but also their efforts to save their uniforms, equipment, medals and other mementos of their service provide the very things we, as collectors, covet. Without those soldiers, there is no hobby or freedom to participate in it. The lion’s share of my gratitude goes out to all of the men and women who have served their nations military and to those who will in the future.

Many Make the Hobby Great!

My gratitude, though, is not limited to the veterans and soldiers, however. I must remember the legions of fellow collectors whose passions have fueled the entire hobby.

First, I must remember those who get up early in the morning, travel many miles only to try to be the first in line at estate sales, auctions or antique shows. I used to be one of these pickers and know just how much effort it takes. Without the pickers uncovering fresh relics, it would be a very stale hobby indeed! So here’s to you, you early morning go-getters who spend your time looking in the backs of closets, under tables and peering deeply into jewelry cases or long-forgotten barns for that next great discovery. You provide the fuel to our hobby!

Where would I be if it weren’t for the dealers? These are the men and women sort through mountains of material to select items for display at shows, on websites or on lists. Again, I have walked in your shoes. I know that standing behind a table for 20 hours over three days takes all of your patience, commitment and self control… yes, self-control! I have also stood on the other side of the table—I know, firsthand, how difficult customers can be.

I confess, when it comes to jerks, I have certainly been one… expecting dealers to function as though they operate a business like, when, in fact, many are just trying to provide a service to other collectors while hopefully providing themselves with a little extra income. So, here’s to all the dealers who make the so many investments in the hobby: The financial commitment to buy collections with the hope of redistributing artifacts to collectors; the time they spend acquiring, sorting, describing and pricing material and the energy putting stuff on the web, assembling price lists or hauling material to shows, not to mention, putting up with picky, some times irrational customers. Dealers, you have my admiration. Thank you for all you do for the hobby.

Show promoters and organizers have provided a constant venue for us for many years. Without all the work they put into procuring sites, buildings, insurance, tables, food, vendors, publicity and guests, we would not have our places to gather, buy, sell and share.

A few years ago, some in the hobby predicted the demise of the “traditional show.” Nothing could be further from reality! In 2012, we saw a large increase in military relic show and historic military vehicle rallies, both in the number of events and of the people attending as vendors or guests.

My days of organizing special events and reenactments at living history museums taught me just how much work is required to put on a show. It requires merciless hours of communication with displayers and vendors, planning and publicizing. Then, on the day of the event, there are all the angry vendors, confused visitors and any one of endless emergencies ranging from over-flowing toilets to the occasional complaint that starts with something like, “THERE IS A SHERMAN TANK in my spot! Whattya gonna do about it?” Oh, show promoters and managers, parade marshals and reenactment organizers… you have my gratitude—it wells up from a deep sense of empathy! I have done your job and know just how much patience, energy and compassion it takes.

There is a special breed that has emerged during the last decade, who have really changed the course of the hobby (for the better, I believe): the Entrepreneurs. Our hobby is certainly not immune to the digital revolution. Entrepreneurs have looked at how we pursue the hobby and devised new ways to buy and sell relics and share information. Not a day goes by when I don’t benefit from their efforts to maintain web forums, research pivots like or, enewsletters, or other digital paths that allow me to view, buy or research.

Our hobby has benefited so much from the digital revolution. As just one example, I can research and write a mini-biography of a WWI soldier in about 20 minutes. Before the digital revolution, the same couple of paragraphs would have taken several months as I wrote letters to archives and awaited their replies. It is an amazing period. Thank you, entrepreneurs, for making it possible.

Fellow collectors have provided the color to our wonderful hobby tapestry. I can’t begin to count the men, women and children whom I have met over the years in my pursuit of relics. I am always impressed by the willingness of collectors to show off their treasures and to explain details that just can’t be learned elsewhere.

I have really been struck by the kindness of those in the military vehicle hobby, in particular. I don’t know what it is--maybe it is a sense of, “we are all in the same boat” that causes a historic military vehicle (HMV) collector to drop whatever he or she is doing to help out a fellow collector who can’t start their vehicle, back into a tight spot or simply to call out to strangers at a parade, “You wanna ride in an army truck?” Yes, there are kind, generous people in other facets of the militaria hobby, but those in the historic military vehicle aspect really stand out. As a non-vehicle owner, permit me to say thank you to all the HMV owners who have opened their camps to me, let me drive their vehicles, handed me a cold drink during a hot show or just let me take photos of their vehicles and pick their brains about the details.

So many in our hobbies provide a joy that goes beyond revealing some neat relic or historical tidbit. Though I am slow to make friends, I have found some of my closest in our hobbies. Thank you to all of you who have put up with my quirks, collecting idiosyncrasies and all the bad habits that can chase the less dedicated away!

Our hobby is indebted to those collectors who are researchers and writers. It is so frustrating to hear a collector repeat, year after year, “I am writing a book about___” only to learn, that collector died—never having shared his or her vast knowledge.

Believe me, I am well-aware of how much discipline it takes to actually compile the stuff floating around in one’s brain into something readable (my closest friend will quickly tell you how many years I have been working on my Quincy Riflemen book!). So, when I receive an article to consider for inclusion in Military Vehicles or Military Trader, I try to always think about the commitment it took for the author to conceive the idea, assemble the details, write the story and take then to submit it to me. I know how much work it takes and how much humility is required to submit an article for someone else to decide whether to print it.

All of you who have been driven to research, collect, assemble and see it through with a published work for others to use in the pursuit of their own hobby, have my gratitude. Without your efforts, we wouldn’t be able to recognize, acquire, organize and interpret the vehicles or relics of our passion!

Finally, let me say a special “thank you” to all who are ambassadors for the hobby. The time you spend sharing your collections, talking to the public and projecting a good image benefits all of us. Let’s be honest, the last few years, it seems increasingly easier for people to use the hobby to promote their own agenda—whether it is a political, theological or economic one.

To those of you who rise above that temptation to simply show the relics or vehicles, share the history and honor the memory of those who served, I say thank you. You occupy the front line. Your kind gesture of talking to a kid, passing on a copy of Military Trader or Vehicles to someone interested, giving a lecture at a local gathering, or simply opening up your home and collection to a visitor all serve to show the public that military collectors are not political activists, gun nuts, war mongers or any other number of derogative terms used by those unfamiliar, to describe what they don’t understand. Sharing our hobby is the path to acceptance… and probably, to more cool relics and stories!

I am sure there are many others whom I have failed to mention—it is not because I don’t appreciate how you contribute to our hobbies of collecting military relics and vehicles! I don’t know what collecting adventures the new year has in store for me, but I am excited about the prospects! To all of you, my collecting friends and devoted readers, I say, “Thank you for all you do for the hobby. It just would not be enjoyable without you.”

Here’s to a great year collecting, preserving and interpreting our military heritage,

John Adams-Graf
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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