Last week, Weber State University honored Veterans Day a bit early. Displayed in the Shepherd Union Atrium were actual items from World War II collections, including weaponry, uniforms and grenade launchers.
Nathan Cragun and Benjamin Johnson have jointly collected World War II memorabilia since they were 16.
Cragun, a WSU student, said he finds joy in collecting and sharing his things with the public.
“There is the passion for collecting mixed in with the passion of history and the passion to share that history with other people,” Cragun said. “That is why we are here today.”
Both Cragun and Johnson have experience sharing their collectibles and teaching history. They have shown off their collection to audiences at Weber High School for the past seven years.
Cragun was raised in an Air Force family and has been interested in all things military since his childhood. He and Johnson got into collecting when they wanted to make their own little versions of war movies.
“As we learned more about the stories of veterans — what they wore, what they used — that passion created a whole other passion, which is understanding what they did, what they went through and their stories,” Cragun said.
Through their collection, many doors and opportunities have opened for the two.
“We have met some really neat people,” Cragun said. “We participated in the ‘Saints and Soldiers’ film, in multiple parades and many displays honoring famous veterans.”
Johnson, a self-proclaimed “collecting whore,” has collections ranging from Marine memorabilia to his very own Willy’s Military Jeep. Johnson became interested when he found out his grandfather served in World War II.
“I got hold of his uniforms, and that kicked it off for me,” said Johnson of his collecting.
Johnson specializes in the “29th infantry” memorabilia dating back to the Civil War. He said that, at the time, the infantry had soldiers fighting for the North as well as the South.
Cragun and Johnson have made many friends over the last several years through their hobby. Johnson was able to meet his heroes on a trip to Germany, some of whom stormed the beaches on V-Day.
“We run into other people like us, exchange information, and collect and grow,” Johnson said.
Many students took advantage of the display to observe the collection, pick up and touch the items, ask questions and learn more about the history.
“We wear and use everything you see here,” Johnson said. “We go out and shoot this stuff and play with this stuff. It is meant to be used and worked with and shown to people.”
Jamie Munson, a WSU sophomore, said he really enjoyed this philosophy and had a great time getting such an up-close-and-personal view of the items being displayed.
“My head is exploding in awesome seeing all of this,” Munson said. “I have never been this close. It is always behind glass.”
Munson said that he and his grandparents often “geek out” over military ideas and memorabilia.
“I have been into this stuff since I was old enough to know what’s up,” he said. “I hope to have my own collection one day down the line.”
Cragun said he likes to promote the positive sides of the war.
“Sadly, in this day and age, the history, especially military history, is being forgotten,” he said. “People look at wars (and) focus on the bad. They don’t understand the inventions and the technological advancements that have happened because of it. I mean, war isn’t a good thing, but if we are going to have it, we might as well look at the bright side of it.”