Beach collector – Mementos of War
By Christopher J. lynch
C.E. Daniel lifts the small shadow box and studies the contents inside. To the casual viewer, they are nothing more than a dozen or so small paper tags with strings attached, items as commonplace and innocuous as something you would purchase at an Office Depot. It’s only on closer inspection that the tags take on a more ominous role; inscribed with the mission number, date, and the target city, they were the last things that a bombardier removed from his 500 pound weapons before they were released to rain death and destruction on German landscape below.
“It’s mesmerizing,” Daniel muses as he holds the box. “Who was this guy, what was it like the moments before he removed them from the bombs?
It’s this sort of mystery that has kept the WWII collector, a lifelong Redondo Beach resident, interested in a hobby that has consumed him for the better part of his life. But his interest in the war, and specifically in collecting aviation memorabilia, had a rather serendipitous beginning.
“I was about eight or nine and was riding my dirt bike out by Indian Dunes near Valencia when I came across what looked to be a small town and airstrip, except the airstrip was filled with vintage airplanes like Corsairs. What I didn’t know at the time was that I had stumbled across the set for the seventies TV show, Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, about a group of Marine pilots fighting in World War II. Hearing those big radial engines fire up is what lit the match that started my interest in the war.”
A few years later, a friend of the family who was aware of Daniel’s interest gave him the first item in his collection: a WWII Bayonet. Since then, his collection has grown to approximately 20,000 items, some of which he purchases, but many that are donated to him by relatives or friends of veterans who just want to ‘make sure the items are preserved.’ And sometimes, he travels halfway around the world to chase history. He holds up a shadow box containing a couple of pictures and some twisted bits of metal.
“This was from a trip I went on with a couple of other guys on Yap Island in Micronesia in 2010. It was organized by Patrick Ranfranz. He and several others had been searching for a downed B-24 lost in the area for several years. He asked me to come along because he knew that I could easily identify the pieces of wreckage.”
Exotic adventures notwithstanding, Daniel takes his responsibility of collecting and preserving the items seriously, and has created an office – which resembles a small museum – in his home to proudly display some of the items. Filling the cases and shelves are instrument panels from fighter planes, flight helmets, a tail section from a Messerschmitt ME-109, gas masks, radios, gun cameras, medals, uniforms, and plenty of pictures.
On one wall are some of the signed photos of famous pilots Daniel’s has in his collection. Chuck Yeager’s signed photo sits right alongside an equally historic, yet less well known, pilot: Paul Tibbets, the man who flew the Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Daniel has met both men, as well as most of the surviving crew of the Enola Gay.
Never one to be dazzled by celebrity though, the collector is more interested in the unsung heroes of the war, the ones that he says, “Aren’t in the history books or have had movies made of their lives.”
“I really care about the average guy,” Daniel says. “The person who heard the calling of their country, left their home and their family, did their service honorably, and then came home to just resume their lives.”
To this end, Daniel does extensive research on almost all of the items he collects. When he feels satisfied with what he’s uncovered, he’ll do a write up on his website so that the story is available to the public and forever memorialized on the internet. Some of his greatest thrills come from contact by a distant family member out of the blue.
“They’ll say; wow, I never knew that about my uncle or my grandfather. Thank you so much for sharing this about his life and his service.”
Recalling such moments brings back home to the collector why he does this in the first place.
“It’s really not about the sheer act of collecting and acquiring things, it’s about keeping the memories of these people alive and preserving history.”
And sometimes, that means a rather dubious piece of history as well.
“This is from Iva Toguri,” Daniel explains as he holds up a small ‘Thank You’ card. “The woman known as ’Tokyo Rose’ who would broadcast Anti-American propaganda to our troops during World War II. I wrote to her to tell her that although I didn’t agree with what she did, she is still a part of the unique history of World War II. She found it so refreshing that someone reached out to her in a somewhat positive manner, she wrote back to thank me.”
There are limits to what he will collect though. He once was offered a pair of Japanese skulls brought home from the war. He quickly refused and also informed the woman who was trying to sell them that trafficking in human remains was against the law.
Perhaps the proudest moment he had in his history of collecting came not from items used in battle, but in training.
”Two young naval aviators were training off of a carrier one day and ended up crashing into each other. They both died in the accident and probably most thought, their memories with them. But I was able to get ahold of personal items belonging to one of the aviators and through lots of research, found the family not only of the first pilot, but the second one as well. I was able to connect them and they came together at my house for a reunion. They had never met before. The second family was so touched that I took the time to memorialize their family member, they donated his items to me as well.”
Long term, Daniel remains hopeful that his efforts continue to bear fruit for future generations.
“My hope is that once I’m gone, the history of all of these items continues to be passed along, the stories of what these guys did and their sacrifices. That’s truly what it’s all about to me.”
To see more of the items in the C.E. Daniel Collection, or learn the history behind them, visit his website: http://www.Danielsww2.com/
To Help Support the effort to locate WWII US airman still missing in action visit:
Christopher J. Lynch is a lifelong South Bay resident. He’s the author of the One Eyed Jack crime novel series about a professional blackmailer who operates in and around the South Bay. His website is: www.christopherjlynch.com