The American Military Historical Society of Florida is a volunteer group of amateur historians who bring together displays of original militaria, mostly from the United States, from the late nineteenth century through the Vietnam War era. This includes a particular focus on World War One, World War Two, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The purpose of this organization is to promote awareness of the sacrifices that our men and women endured and to educate the general public, both young and old, about the historical significance of each period.
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At the Lions Club in Yulee, Florida, Phillip A. Buhler, Stephen Cargile, Forrest Bledsoe, and Warren Chard, four members of Florida’s American Military Historical Society (AMHS), were busy carrying in boxes of paraphernalia, uniforms and military issue weapons.
At their latest event, they chose four specific displays: World War 1, World War 2, Korea and Vietnam. However, the expansive displays are just a fraction of the military artifacts the society privately owns.
Portable, single-use weapons issued to Vietnam soldiers for ease of equipment transport in the dense jungles. Also on display is an example of the military meal rations, which every soldier would rely on in the field. (American Military Historical Society of Florida)
Nearly every military conflict has been painstakingly researched with artifacts purchased, restored and cataloged for each branch of the service. The pieces are then included in the educational presentations the Society provides to high schools, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) chapters and the general public.
Chris Duffy, President of the Yulee Lions Club, is a retired police force veteran and views his frequent partnership with AMHS as a continuation of the Lions Club’s focus on community.
By hosting bingo every Sunday, the club raises funds to not only provide prizes to the players but to support local Cub Scout troops and provide medication access to lower-income individuals. Extending this service to AMHS seemed natural.
A letter sent by Glenn Miller to an American soldier prior to Miller’s entry into the service. (American Military Historical Society of Florida)
“Mr. Warren reached out and wanted to use the building for the museum, “ Duffy told American Military News. “ It’s good to give back to these guys who are doing a good service for education. The ROTC and school kids come in and learn the history of the military.”
Education is the primary purpose behind AMHS, as they don’t charge for their services. All too often, the intimate details of the lives American service members lived are lost in the dry recounting of history books.
Thanks to AMHS, the faces and names of the veterans who served are seen and heard again, and communities’ pride and sorrow as they coped with war is tangible.
Phillip A. Buhler, a member of AMHS, is an attorney who has been collecting military memorabilia for about 45 years. He teaches international and maritime law in Germany while he works on obtaining a doctorate degree. His focus is on collecting World War 1 artifacts in particular.
“The first article I bought was a U.S. Doughboy helmet off a surplus store on Main Street in Jacksonville,” Buhler said. “Which is no longer there. I was a history major in college, so, I have a lifelong love of it.”
Phillip A. Buhler with a portion of his collection. The trench art, uniforms, and footlocker are from an identified veteran, who returned from war heavily decorated. The canvas bag shown contains a gas mask and is worn in a historically accurate way as soldiers would flip the mask quickly to protect themselves from noxious fumes. (American Military Historical Society of Florida)
Buhler’s Patton Saber is one of his most prized artifacts because it is extremely rare. Designed by General Patton, the weapon is the last example of the saber’s use in daily military issue. Buhler’s artifact is particularly rare because it was adopted by the U.S. Marines for use in the Mounted Marine Detachment at the U.S. Legation in Peking.
U.S. Marine Corp issued Patton saber (American Military Historical Society of Florida)
After the rebellion, U.S. Marines remained a presence in China until 1941. During that time, the Marines stationed there included a mounted division that was issued the Patton Saber, which is the original source of the saber Buhler owns.
Buhler loves the opportunities AMHS provides to show a lesser-seen side of the military.
“We want to educate the public,” he said. “It’s not just U.S., I have a large U.S. collection but I also have a large collection around the world, especially European.”
Stephen Cargile, another member of AMHS, is an architect who was raised with a strong family history of military service. Growing up, he remembers hearing stories from his uncles and grandfather about their time serving their country.
Stephen Cargile, displaying part of his collection. Of note are the signed unit flag and the blue and gold star banner. The banner’s blue stars represent a person in the service. Gold stars, of which this banner contained four, represented a soldier who died while serving. (American Military Historical Society of Florida)
As he aged, he said, he realized other important people in his life served in the military, as well, including his teachers, who were World War II vets.
“Listening to everybody became a fascination,” Cargile told American Military News.
Cargile’s artifacts reflect his deeply personal ties to the people who served and the communities that supported the troops. His framed letter from Glenn Miller to an active-duty soldier, seen above, is one of his favorite examples of how the military has shaped America.
“How Americana can you get?” Cargile asked. “That’s one of the last letters he wrote as a civilian before he, himself, volunteered. He gave up that lucrative career to join the Army. And then, of course, he never came home.”
A third member of AMHS is military veteran Forrest Bledsoe. After six years in the Army, he transferred to the Navy for another 17 years of service.
“I chose the Korean War because no one remembers it,” Bledsoe said. “I felt that it was necessary to preserve it.”
Forrest Bledsoe, displaying some of his Korean War artifacts. (American Military Historical Society of Florida)
Bledsoe noted that many of the uniforms used the Korean War were surplus from World War 2. Minor changes, such as buttons, were made. Bledsoe’s 1938 Bell Western Electric phone might seem out of place, but it’s one of the details that makes the AMHS’s exhibits so special.
Bledsoe shows the trigger-finger mechanism in the snow suits issued to soldiers in Korea. The suit is equipped with extreme weather protection including boot covers that are inflated for additional insulation. (American Military Historical Society of Florida)
“I have that because I have a photograph [from war-era Korea] of a sign and that type of phone. The sign says ‘The South Korean Telecommunications Authority limits all calls on this phone to two minutes. Do not discuss classified information.’ I just thought that was indicative of some of the restraints that the soldiers had to face,” Bledsoe told American Military News.
Warren Chard, a military veteran, is also a member of AMHS. Chard’s focus is on collecting and preserving Vietnam artifacts. He retired as a Chief Petty Officer from the Navy after 26 years of active Naval submarine service. While each member has their favorite era, Chard noted they’ve all become experts in military history.
“That’s one thing about the club,” Chard said, “each one of us can cross over and talk about other periods.”
William Chard, with a portion of his Vietnam artifacts. His helmet remains as he decorated it. The issued vest exhibits a mock can of white phosphorus, which soldiers were given as active agents. (American Military Historical Society of Florida)
For Chard, the Vietnam helmet he has on display is deeply personal: it was issued to him during his time in service.
“I think that we adorned these helmets with all kinds of graffiti. Especially, during this time period, we embellish it with all kinds of peace signs, because not a lot of us were for the war,” Chard told American Military News. “During the turbulent ‘60’s and ‘70’s in America, we went to Vietnam and did what we were told to do, we weren’t really happy about being there. That was reflected in America during those timeframes. We had significant effects during that time, and as part of my display, I also do the turbulence of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.”
While the AMHS protects and preserves the past of the United States and its military, their work serves as a reminder that the past is never really the past. Every war, veteran and story told has changed the lives Americans live today, as well as how the U.S. military operates.