Bob interviews Jim Osborne who has amassed one of the largest and most and extensive military collections of any individual. The collection is so large it has now become it’s own 14 acre museum complex in Vincennes, Indiana. Even two shows do not do this museum justice! Watch and get just a small sample of what the Indiana Military Museum has to offer.
This is probably the most extensive personal collection that our TV production and me personally has ever seen.Bob Redfern
Welcome to this week’s Military Collectors. Folks we’re back here in Vincennes, Indiana in the heartland of America at the Indiana Military Museum. All of these great artifacts that you see behind me are from the personal collection of Jim Osborne, resident lifelong collector. And now this week, we’re going to showcase what Jim has put together as the Indiana Military Museum right here on Military Collectors. From planes to ships, you name it, he’s got it. He’s collected it he’s had that vision, that passion, since he was seven years old. A man, who from 1945, a World War II baby has collected his whole life and it’s all right here in Vincennes, Indiana at the Indiana Military Museum on this week’s Military Collectors.
Folks, welcome to this week’s Military Collectors. We are so honored and it’s just a pleasure to be in the heartland right here in Indiana, Vincennes the Indiana Military Museum. And the guy that put this all together, his lifelong collection, is… We are going to showcase this week on Military Collectors is none other than the Honorable Jim Osborne. Jim, I just, I am so honored to be here because you know this is probably the most, if the most extensive personal collection that our TV production and me personally has ever seen. I’ve been to a lot of museums. I’ve been to a lot of places around the country, okay, and I’m a not only former military, but I’m a history buff, like you, but putting together a personal collection like this had to be a tremendous, well, I just, a piece of satisfaction that nobody else could ever imagine.
[Jim] It’s been, it’s been an enjoyable trip, yeah, day one. And I started when I was 7 years old, as you know, so, a lot of years to accumulate this.
[Bob] Well, let’s go back just a little bit here. Ok, I mean, there’s probably well over a hundred two hundred thousand pieces of artifacts here from all the way, the beginning of the very first conflict that the United States had to up current-day Afghanistan and, and ‘course the War on Terrorism, but tell me about, as a young seven year old boy, what, what got this started?
[Jim] I know what got it started was that my father gave me a Civil War musket, that someone owed him some a little bit of money, so they gave him this musket and when he brought it home, and muskets stood much taller than I was but I was just fascinated with that. And then the second thing I can remember, just shortly after that, was a next-door neighbor, a veteran of World War II, was going to the trash pit with items he brought back from war with Germany. A helmet, flag, canteen and so forth. He handed them to me. So, I thought, that was my that was my initial voyage just starting right there.
[Bob] Well, I mean, you of course growing up here in the heartland of the United States, right here in farming country, Vincennes, Indiana. I mean, it must have been very, very special to start going to the places to find these artifacts. I mean, even as a youngster.
[Jim] Well, as a youngster, it was pretty easy because it was just right after World War II and so these guys were, you know, parting with this stuff, pretty quick. The wives were saying, “Get it out of the house.” And so, for a long time, I was just, you know, pick it up and hall it home. And before long, I had a pretty good stack in the basement before my parents even realized it was there.
[Bob] Well, your folks must have been very understanding of course you know how moms are okay when you start dragging stuff home where did you put all of it?
[Jim] Well of course, luckily they had a good full-size basement. So that was the start, some in the garage… And, and you know, what’s interesting is that if occasionally my mother would even come home with something from a rummage sale because she knew I was interested, so.
[Bob] Wow, now do you know, moving forward a little bit, of course, with those collections everybody has their most prized and most favorite and there’s this so much here. And folks, I have to tell you, you need to log on to Military Collectors tv.com and you’ll find, again, the website here for the Indiana Military Museum because you need to come visit this place. I mean, the history lives here and it’s all through this guy’s personal collection that that you’re going to be able to do that. But, you know, Jim, you have certain items, I know, what is one of the your premier that kind of sticks out?
[Jim] Well, I think that a couple of the most outstanding pieces we’ve got, our World War II, we’ve got the Eisenhower’s full class A uniform. It was tailor made in London just a few months before D-Day. And we’ve got one, we’ve got a couple of Patton’s uniforms. We got his tankers jacket that he wore during World War II. We’ve got Bob Morgan’s uniform. It’s the only one in existence. Bob Morgan, of course, was the pilot of the Memphis Belle, the famous plane, the B-17 that made the first 25 missions successfully over Europe. And so we have the one-and-only uniform of Bob Morgan’s, and so, I think, those are, those are premier pieces that I’m really proud of.
[Bob] Well, let me ask you, let’s go a little earlier, okay, you’ve got this musket as a seven year old boy and so you’re collecting a stuff pre Civil War, and that sort of thing. Now, we’re talking the cavalry, okay? I notice there’s a certain box in there that houses a lot of Custer stuff, you know, how important is that to your collection?
[Jim] Some Interesting items from the Indian War period, yes. We’ve got, we’ve got a, we have a coverlet that was submitted by Elizabeth Custer for a good friend of her, of Custer’s, Peter Boehm. And Peter Boehm great-grandson is who lives here in Vincennes. Peter Boehm won the medal of honor riding with Custer in Civil War. We had that on display, along with, along with the Medal of Honor that he won. And also one of the survivors of Little Bighorn that rode with Benteen, instead of Custer, and during the Battle of Little Bighorn, was from Vincennes, Jacob Adams. And we have some artifacts pertaining to Jacob Adams here. And the other interesting thing is we have a cemetery, of course, as you’ve noticed right across the road, and that’s where Jacob Adams is buried today. So, so Indian War history too.
[Bob] I’m just so amazed at this collection and because, again, you touched it all and I think that’s what’s so special. They’re just not many men who have that passion, or many individuals that I know, it’s just, it’s a mini Smithsonian here, again, that’s what makes it so unique is because you have, you’ve taken that personal time to reach out to generals, to former veterans and stuff like that, I mean. How many letters did you write in order to reach out to these folks?
[Jim] I’ve lost track, but I’m sure thousands.
[Bob] Wow, I mean and even from General Haig’s collection in there, I mean, that’s a special story in itself, tell me a little bit about how’d you get all of, all of Haig’s.
[Jim] Well, in that in, since the General Haig’s brother-in-law was a good friend of ours and then, and was serving on our board of directors, so when, when General Haig passed away, he contacted his sister to see what might be available for the museum and that’s, that’s, that’s how it came about.
[Bob] Wow, well Jim, I tell you what, there’s so much here to look at, I just, we just can’t get it all right here in this first segment. It’s so special, but hold that thought because I got some other questions that we’re gonna ask you when we come back, because you had some travels in your lifetime, and I know they were important. So folks, when we come back here on Military Collectors, Jim is going to talk to you about some of his travels over to Europe over his lifetime, that not only added to his collection, but also his curiosity about World War II.
Welcome back to Military Collectors. As promised, I have Jim Osborne, premier collector, right here in Vincennes, Indiana. And I’ve got Jim, well, I’ve got him keyed up to talk about not only his passion for collection but his passion for history and World War II and, you know, Jim you know, during your travels now, of course, being an attorney and being a history major and even a teacher for several years, your history took you to Germany. Tell me about your first trip in the 80s to Germany.
[Jim] Well, actually my first trip was back in 65. (65? Okay.) I started making trips in 65, I mean, by 1980 there, there had been a few more trips. But I made trips back over, oh I guess I’m 20 times or more. But the purpose was, several times, was just to meet with various World War II veterans and people both for the British and German and so forth that I had to corresponded with and got to know. And so lot of those trips were to culminate those friendships and talk a little bit.
[Bob] Let me talk, let’s talk about 1982, now you’re, you’re a young man, you’re already an established lawyer. You go to Berchtesgaden and right there, tell us a little bit about that trip that year.
[Jim] Well, one of our stops at on that trip was, we were hitting a lot of historic spots, you know, that pertain to World War II, and so we went to Berchtesgaden. Then, of course, we knew that Hitler’s Berghof, his house, that was up in the Alps there where, where it had been located, been, been bombed and, of course, blown completely up in 1952 by the German government. But we decided we’d go up and see what was left, and surprisingly, we found out that there was still some left and had then, we found out there was still underground rooms there and and so forth. So we planned a second trip the next year to go back and, and, and get into those rooms, which we did. And we discovered several underground rooms there underneath the main level of the house. And roam through there and found a few artifacts and, and it was interesting.
[Bob] Well, one of those prized artifacts did, tell me, what, what, what mostly stuck out at you that you brought back?
[Jim] Well, I, in the big room that’s where the picture window was used to be there. You can see the mechanism where the picture window went up above and it would drop down and be an open-air, but now…
[Bob] That was a big curve?
[Jim] No, there was a big open spectacular window that was probably 40-foot long, maybe, that would make this whole room open-air.
[Bob] So, that was the famous picture where Hitler would be out on the balcony there with his, you know
[Jim] They could overlook the back and overlook the Alps and so forth. Well, the mechanism was still down in this basement area. So, we, we saw that. And right there in that room was a big porcelain drain which I was able to pull out of the floor and as a souvenir, of course, and I brought that back along with other minor things. You know, like old light switches and that were still down there in the basement, some nice and tile. It was on the, on the wall and that’s, as you know, since then they they’ve gone back and sealed all of this up so there’s no chance to get in there now. But I wrote a story for After The Battle Magazine at that time. And then, of course, I received letters from all over the world from people saying, “How did you get in there? Where? Tell us how you do this?” So, that might have something to do with them sealing it up.
[Bob] Mmm, they were probably reading it too! Let’s take another aspect here of history. You have contacts and, of course, part of your collection here from former General officers who now many have passed on from World War II, but you were able to go back to Germany and were able to, to have another trip there with a specific reason. Tell all the folks out there what that trip was about.
[Jim] Well, I think you’re talking about the visit with Albert Speer and, and when I was in law school I was writing a paper on the Nuremberg trials, doing some research. And so, I decided I’d try to contact some of these former defendants that were in Nuremberg, Speer and Dönitz and a few others, and surprisingly, I heard from them! And, and so, I had developed a dialogue with some’em and, and continued that after Law School. And so I ultimately, I got an invitation from Speer one time to come and see him, if he, if I’m in Germany, come and see him. So, I thought I better jump on that opportunity, you know, it’s going to be a kind of a chance in a lifetime historical experience to talk to someone like that. So, I did and I made a trip to Heidelberg and, and visited with Speer in his house, home for one afternoon and so you know I answered lots of questions asked lots of questions and learned a little bit more about the, about the trials from his standpoint.
[Bob] Well, you know, what folks may or may not know, being history buffs, as you wrote in many articles after you came home, one particular was he was in charge of all the munitions and basically the German industrial complex that, that powered the war. [Jim] Yeah, yeah, he started out, of course, as Hitler’s architect. (Right!) And then, and when, and when the war started and the vacancy came for the minister of armaments, he filled that position and then filled that to the remainder of the war. And so you know he turned his his engineering abilities over to that and so he wrote a book as you know inside the Third Reich which he wrote during the time he was in in prison that spanned out and that became a best-seller and of course a very interesting inside look and hence the name inside the Third Reich very interesting and probably historically significant book so.
[Bob] Well, let me ask you one question, did he have any regrets when you had the chance to interview him or was he still you know vibrant and well that in his own mind that he was right.
[Jim] No, I think, I think he was recalcitrant, if nothing else. And it’s interesting that, of course, and then may have been it certainly played to his favor. He was one of the, he was one of the only ones at the the major trial in Nuremberg that admitted guilt. That may have been a very smart move on his part because he got twenty years instead of, instead of life or death. (Right.) And, but, yeah, I mean, he was, he didn’t seem to be a fervent Nazi when I talked to him. I mean, you know, he didn’t espouse anything in that nature and so, I mean, other than that, how can I say, I don’t know.
[Bob] Right. Well Jim, it’s such a remarkable career of collecting. We’ve got more to show the folks on this week’s Military Collectors and so with that stand by because I’ve got some other great questions I want to ask you. But folks, when we come back, we’re going to be talking to Jim Osborne right here in Vincennes Indiana at the Indiana Military Museum about some of his more, well, let’s just say unique collections.
Welcome back to Military Collectors. We’re here at Vincennes, Indiana at one of the premier collections by any personal individual as I’ve told you throughout the show Jim Osborne who put all of this wonderful place he now calls the Indiana Military Museum right here in downtown Vincennes. But we’re going to talk a little bit about wheeled vehicles and his collection on that side of things we’ve talked about the each’s and uniforms and special items there. But you know Jim, let’s talk a little bit about the rolling stock. Okay, what was your first, well really, as a young man, what was your first one?
[Jim] Well in college I was able to pick up a jeep, World War II Jeep. And farmer locally had it. And, and I was able to purchase that pretty reasonably and and so I still have that it’s over in the in any other building.
[Bob] Well, you know World War II Jeeps were plentiful there were a lot of made and a lot of folks have them everything is drying up now as far as you know when we’re moving off into that to the history but what was the second item that you actually got?
[Jim] Well, after the Jeep it wasn’t too much longer than I oh well you know we need something a little more exciting so we found a half track and when so we went down to southern parts and in Memphis Tennessee who had several that they sold, at that time, it took, to contractors and so forth. And that they’d bought them from the National Guard, that National Guard had parted with them. So we, we bought us a nice World War II half track.
[Bob] Well you know, from a guy that started out with small armaments, a musket then you move two artillery pieces, okay, now you’re moving from half-tracks…
[Jim] The next thing was a tank.
[Bob] It was tanks, okay. Well, tell us about your armored collection.
[Jim] Well, we’ve got a nice variety of armor. We get that we’ve got the Sherman and we get this a couple of versions of the Stuart tanks and that we’ve got some self-propelled gun’ zones on Sherman chassis. And, and then there’s, there’s some Japanese tanks here. There’s, we have a Russian T-34 here. And then we have a very rare chassis we just acquired of a Marmon Herrington tank which was made before World War II. Marmon Harrington and was trying to get into the government contract business and building tanks but they weren’t very successful so extremely rare tank. It’s missing the turret, so we’re going to have to replicate the turret again, but we’re, that’s going to be a project we’re looking forward to. It’s going to be an exciting addition to the museum.
[Bob] Well I think, one of the tributes to you personally here again amassing a collection that’s one thing but the displays that, the vision and all of that that you put behind it much like this behind us which this burned out, looks like an old chapel of some sort from Europe.
[Jim] It’s like a Normandy Church heavily bombed, yes.
[Bob] Yeah, and so you, you’ve got those. You’ve got outside displays that you put together out there in order to authenticate it. Now I know a special heart goes out to all the kids that you bring through here every year throughout Indiana and the Midwest. But, how about the big kids? Are they in awe when they come in here and see your collection.
[Jim] Well I think, I think they are. I think I have everything from the, from the young students all the way up through the grades and then the, and then the the older boys, you know, that, that really have been just like myself, you know, had to have something besides the model plane and the model tank, they’ve had to get a hold of the real deal. And of course, a lot of people come through like that and they’re they’re really excited about seeing something full-scale.
[Bob] Well finally, I have to ask you about one special thing and when you walk the grounds of your collection and you see the big stuff on the outside, there’s one thing that sticks out and that’s the submarine. Tell me a little bit about, because you know, other than probably the Navy folk at either coast in a museum of a naval warfare or whatever, tell us about that submarine that’s out here.
[Jim] Yeah, when you drive in you’ll see the the conning tower and of course the the hall stretching out in front of it of the USS Indianapolis 697 which was a an atomic… nuclear powered attack submarine and that was commissioned back in about in 1980 and it was decommissioned about 1998 so it had a short life mostly because it was decommissioned early to accommodate some of the reciprocal acts from the Russians of decommissioning some of theirs. So, we’re real happy to add that to our to our exhibits. It was a six year process of getting that from the Navy in here and and rebuilding the the exhibit as you see it, which looks like a surfacing sub as you come in the drive.
[Bob] Well, there’s just not many museums that have the variety of things that you have amassed in your personal collection and I just tell you, when the men and women of the Armed Forces and when the family members of all those that have served and come and gone and will serve, come by here to see your collection I know you’re going to be smiling every day and just the satisfaction.
[Jim] What makes us happy are the comments we get from the visitors that come here and they’re very satisfied and mostly amazed at what they see, they don’t expect it. And I think that that pays off, it pays off to me personally when I hear that and of course I know it does to all the volunteers that are here that work on these things when they hear the praise that people give about how nicely the collection is and how well it’s presented. That’s the pat on the back they need to keep going.
[Bob] Well Jim, I personally want to thank you so much for having our show here and it’s just been an honor and a privilege. It’s, it’s just been one of those special things for me as a former veteran myself to come here and see what you’ve put together for, not only yourself, but for those others to come behind us to remember history remember where this country has come from.
[Jim] Thanks, I, what you’ve said reminds me of something that I think we a good friend of mine, who’s now passed away, Fred Rocky, who was a premier collector of these type of items. The thing was he always said and I agree with completely is that work we’re only the custodian of these items were not we’re not the owners. And we’ll be judged on is how well we preserved them for the next generation. And so, that’s, that’s the way we look at it here, you know, we’re just taking care of these for a short time until somebody else takes over.
[Narrator] If you have missed any past episodes of Military Collectors be sure to go online at Military Collectors tv.com and you can see not only past episodes but also read in-depth features on the people and their passion of their military collections.
Well, next week, Military Collectors is going to come back with part two of our series here in Vincennes, Indiana and we’re going to showcase some special members of what Jim has put together as a corporation to help preserve his legacy and all his collection. The Indiana Military Museum will be showcased next week right back here on Military Collectors. [Music]