Features

Collecting WW I armaments

WW1 museum

In the trailer, one can see shelves of WW I items. "Sam" is attired in a WW I uniform, and his wife, Carol, in a WW I nurse's uniform.

gas mask

At his office Cole holds aloft a WWI gas mask. Much written history fills his shelves.
Photos by Oscar Roloff/Woodinville Weekly.

  by Oscar Roloff
Want to see a huge Krupp gun? When one passes the 1917 weapon, one steps inside a 70-foot-long enclosed trailer to be confronted by a startlingly vast array of World War I (1917-18) relics and curios.
   The huge gun in itself is a collector's item to behold. Willis Cole, its owner, traced it back to 1962, but found that somehow it came to the U.S. in 1925. The gun weighs 16,000 lbs. and is positioned on a trailer behind the covered trailer in front.
   The gun's 210 MM shells weigh 240 pounds. Often, Willis Cole shoves off for France to procure more old armament that farmers plow up in their fields. Others find them with metal detectors. Many are still explosive. Care is needed.
   Few recall that during that war, the Germans used poison gas against our men. I knew some. They came back mental wrecks.
   An employee of Woodinville's Labels West, Inc., Willis "Sam" Cole had been an Air Force radar operator from 1957 to 1961, then an Army Specialist from 1961 to 1964.
   His card reads "Battery Cpl. Willis Sam Cole, Military Museum Executive Director/Curator." His non-profit museum is open to the public from 1 to 5 on Sundays.
   His wife, Carol, is a collector, too, and a researcher of WW I nurse's uniforms, canteen workers' clothing and other items.
   "I used to take my truck to various schools, but had to cease because of the high insurance rates," Cole, 56, said. (He likes the middle name Sam. There are seven generations of Sams and his is the third Sam.)
   "I enjoy kids who come to see my collection. They are so interesting and knowledgeable," he said.
   Carol, while working on her own collection and research, finds time to help her husband on his. She's a copywriter with the Bon Marche in Seattle.
   On 4 July this year, Cole will be at Chantilly, France for the memorial of the 1st Division and battle taking place on May 28, 1918, and the 80th Anniversary with the Assevillier Foreign Legion, remembering the U.S.'s Alan Seeger, who was killed near Bouilly on 4 July 1916.
   He will also be at the memorial site for two military officers who had been awarded Medals of Honor, and for two crewmen, all being aboard the B-18 "Lady Jeanette" that crashed on 9 Nov. 1944.
   Though the French determined they'd found the crash site and had placed the remains in graves, so far the U.S. has refused to acknowledge it, Cole said. Nonetheless, each year, the French honor the site. Cole and his wife have been there before.
   I commend the couple who work side by side on their hobbies, called "passions" by the French. She helps her mate and he helps her. Such nice folks. Very pleasant, comfortable to be around.