Collector's items-- Attorney is a World War II history buff

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

As a small boy in post-World War II Michigan, Thomas Hall played Army games with his buddies, using old helmets and gear from fathers who had served in the war.

"I was born in December 1945, just after the end of the war, but a few months early to qualify as a baby boomer," he says. "Many of my friends' fathers had served in World War II, although my father had been a little too old and had been classified 4-F in the draft. Nonetheless, the movies, television and much media attention attended to the World War II era as I grew up."

It was a fascination that led to a lifelong interest for Hall, president and shareholder of Hall, Lewis, & Bolles, in Mt. Pleasant. He has written articles about the war, and has an extensive collection of memorabilia and books.

"We're only a generation away from those earth-changing events, and there are still people in our communities who were part of them," he says. "So, if we learn of and become aware of the truth behind the myths of history, and what really happened, we can absolutely come to a clearer understanding of why and, hopefully, learn how not to have such things happen again."

Fascinated by what happened in Germany and the rest of Europe in World War II, the Fremont native wanted to learn more about Adolf Hitler, his National Socialist German Workers Party--commonly known as the Nazi Party, and Hitler's government and policies.

"I acquired a few war trophies from my friends' fathers in my early teens, such as a Nazi flag, uniform and some medals," he says. "These sparked my curiosity, and I had to learn about what I had and what these things represented."

Hall, who earned his bachelor's degree from Central Michigan University and his law degree from the Detroit College of Law while teaching business and math in Redford Union Public Schools, maintained his historical interests throughout his career.

For more than three decades he has been a member of the Ohio Valley Military Society, one of the oldest and largest Militaria collector's clubs in the world with more than 2,000 current members. The Society, headquartered in Cincinnati, promotes the study and collecting of historic military artifacts by sponsoring three regular shows a year in the Ohio Valley area.

Hall also is a life member of the Military Antiques Xtravaganza (MAX) show, one of the largest military antique collectible shows offering about 1,500 tables displaying and selling edged weapons, uniforms, headgear, Samurai swords, medals, documents, books, items from the American Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, ATF curio and relic-approved military guns. The show also offers seminars and guest speakers. The most recent show, that attracts collectors from overseas as well as from around the States, was held in Pittsburgh in October.

"I used to advertise to purchase items from veterans and their families, and had the good fortune to meet and speak with hundreds of World War II veterans about their individual experiences," Hall says

He has twice visited Europe, traveling to a number of places significant to the rise of Naziism and the war. In 1970, he visited Nuremberg, Munich, Dachau, Frankfort and other cities; in 2008, Berlin, Prague, Krakow, Auschwitz, and Vienna.

"As a result, my home contains a substantial library on World War II and a video collection, as well as a collection of World War II war souvenirs of all types," he says.

"I've had the opportunity to meet some of the 'Band of Brothers'--101st Airborne Easy Company--as well as the pilot and other crew members of the Enola Gay and Bockscar, the two planes that delivered the atomic bombs in August, 1945, and other heroes of the war."

One exciting find happened a few years ago, after Hall's ad in a local paper led him to acquire a set of photo albums from a couple in a neighboring town. After research, he found they belonged to the commander of the Second Panzer Army--a German tank army that was a large armored formation within the Wehrmacht Heer field forces--that fought in the Battle of Moscow and in the defensive battles of the Eastern Front central sector against the Russian forces.

"These albums are rather mundane and contain newspaper clippings, as well as photographs of the takeover of the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia and the attack on Poland when this General was the commander of the First Panzer Division at the beginning of the war," he says. "This sparked an article I wrote in a collector publication about the albums, which included photos of known personalities with this commander. This person reached the rank comparable to a 4-star general in the U. S. Army and was called a 'Generaloberst' or Colonel General in the German Army rank system. Anyway, it was really a nice find, with no explanation of how they got where they ended up."

Hall, who has written personal experience articles in another collector journal, as well as articles about specific collectables, has read many of the books in his collection cover to cover, and others are used as references. He recommends "Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany," a non-fiction book by Stephen Ambrose, as one of the best on the American experience in the European theater.

He enjoys watching the History Channel and prefers documentaries of the World War II period.

"I think I've seen as many as have made it to video," he says. "What World War II buff did not think that 'Saving Private Ryan' was just a great movie, as was 'A Bridge Too Far,' two of my favorites. 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich' was an excellent documentary, and I wish that the Wolper collection at USC would reissue the full multi-hour video."

Hall believes the United States was lucky to have George S. Patton as commander of the Third Army.

"No one else could probably have accomplished what he did and his reputation is well deserved," he says.

"Some high-ranking generals made mistakes and many were exceptionally competent and loved by the soldiers who served under them. The same was true of the enemy's commanders. I know a lady who was related to and knew well, spending considerable time with, the Generaloberst who commanded the Afrika Korps with and after Rommel. She knew him after the war and he is now deceased, of course, but she still lives here in Mt. Pleasant and shared with me how he was as a person--very normal."

Although Hall has sold off some of his collection, he hopes to pass along some of his passion for history to his five children and his grandchildren.

"I would love it if my children or grandchildren were interested in these artifacts and the history of the period. One of my sons teaches history classes and he and another son are very familiar with much of the history of the era, but not passionate about collecting. I think you just have to have the 'collecting bug' to get as involved as I have," he says.

"This hobby has not driven my life, as I've prided myself in my professional work and in my firm and have striven to represent clients with integrity and by providing quality service. But, such a hobby creates passion about the subject matter which is fun to share and discuss with others who also care about it."

Published: Mon, Dec 6, 2010

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