by Joseph D. Gray
About 20 years ago, I was at an auction when I was approached by a local “picker” from whom I had purchased militaria in the past. He was acting kind of twitchy and sort of looking over his shoulder.
“Are you still buying that military stuff?” he asked.
“Yes. What do you have?” I answered.
Still looking around carefully, he kind of whispered, “A cyanide tablet!”
“Where is it?” I asked.
“In my car.”
We then strolled out to the auction house’s parking lot.
He reached into the car and produced a small khaki-colored cloth “envelope” that held a glass disc riveted to a metal disc with a smaller white disc about an inch in diameter sandwiched between them.
“You think that’s a cyanide tablet?” I inquired.
“Yeah. It says poison right on the back!”
Indeed, it did, so I asked, “How would you get it out?”
“Break the glass.”
“But how would you swallow something that big?”
“Oh, you just break a small piece off,” he pointed out.
I said, “Okay,” before asking what he wanted for it. I paid his price: $40.
I thanked him and asked him to keep me in mind when he had other militaria to sell.
As I walked away, I chuckled to myself because the “cyanide tablet” I had purchased was actually a luminous disc worn on the helmets of US paratroopers when they jumped at night. It has a metal clip on the back used to attach it to the helmet net or camouflage cloth cover.
When the troops saw another white disc floating in the dark, they knew it was a friend and not a foe.
It turns out, the cloth “envelope” is harder to find than the disc itself.
This is one of my favorite items because of the great story that came with it!