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April 5, 2005 > It's Living History

It's Living History

by Lance Dwyer

Although none of the items in his collection were for sale, one exhibitor at the recent Bay Area Military (BAM) antique show proudly displayed his Swiss and Croatian military articles to browsers because "antiques offer a sense of history that can't be found in textbooks."

Historical military clothing, hardware and art ran rampant at Centennial Hall in Hayward Saturday, April 2 as BAM offered its semi-annual show to collectors, history buffs and those interested in the human stories behind combat narratives. Organizers enjoyed the show's largest attendance to date. According to Mark Hull, founder of the event, 350 people had already arrived by 10 a.m. He said he expected many more by the time the show ended at 4 p.m.

Dozens of art, history and antique enthusiasts set up tables at the show to sell their items, chat about their collections or simply perpetuate the history behind their collections. Ben Weed has been collecting war antiques for 35 years. Draped behind his station were three large flags with Nazi swastikas on them. Although these symbols certainly set his table apart, Nazi and World War II antiques are not necessarily his primary collecting interests.

"I try to change it and do a different theme each show, but I cover all periods, all nations," said Weed.

Weed mentioned that he had items dating back as early as 1761 from England, and as recent as contemporary wars fought in Iraq and Rwanda. Like most exhibitors at the show, the common theme that links his collection spanning hundreds of years and thousands of miles is that they are all associated with armed forces.

Exhibitors filled Centennial Hall with virtually every type of military-related article, including pendants, flags, medals, knives, swords and helmets. Although the collections covered many different wars and battles from all around the world, the time period most commonly represented was World War II. Weed explained that World War II has the greatest amount of surviving and available items than any other war.

Civilian dress was common, but a few took advantage of the ambiance to browse in full military uniform. Galen Dunham appeared straight out of the 40's in a well-groomed U.S. officer's uniform. He explained that one of his avocations is participation in a big band swing band called "The Bawmhrs" (Bay Area Women and Men's Historical Reenactment Society) who dress in vintage clothing and will be playing aboard the USS Hornet on April 16.

Chatting with a vendor at another display, two "GI's," Deran DeOrian and Rene Raygoza, finished their discussion and joined a German soldier, Ray Raygoza who was browsing through a rack of authentic clothing for an addition to his uniform. The "German" said that his camouflage hat and helmet were authentic and during World War II, Americans often discarded similar gear since it made it difficult to distinguish between friendly and enemy forces.

The Bay Area Military antique show takes place twice a year. Hull established the show three years ago after a Southern California show was discontinued and feels especially motivated to host this event because "they are vanishing." He said, "A lot of the original collectors are starting to pass away, not a lot of young kids are picking up where they left off."

Hull's antique collection of Japanese swords was a bit different from most of the other exhibits at the show. His collection served as a good "segue into military antiques." He added that the reason he accepted the task of promoting this show is "to keep the wonderful educational tradition of antique shows alive."

"It's living history," said Hull. "If you forget about history it's going to come around and get you." Looking around the large room filled with exhibitors, he spoke about the information available to those who visit the exhibition. "These individuals have spent a lot of time and expense learning about the things they collect and they love to talk about them." He added, "I like to host an event where everyone can enjoy themselves and have a good time."

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