Northwest NEWS

October 8, 2001

Features

Bothell man's collection is dedicated to country's vets

by Deborah Stone
   It is rare to find a person who doesn't collect something, whether it is stamps, coins, baseball cards, quilts, spoons, hats, mugs or pins.
   One such man who has opted to make his unusual collection available to others has a specific motivation for his actions. Bothell resident Todd Crooks is a collector of war memorabilia and for the past 13 years, he has amassed several thousand items from as far back as the Revolutionary War all the way to modern times.
   Crooks, an aerospace engineer and Navy reservist lieutenant, began his collection with a World War II army uniform. It was his father's, a World War II tech sergeant in the 9th Armored Division whose unit captured the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine before the retreating Germans could destroy it. The uniform was missing a few pieces, and Crooks decided to look for them to complete the outfit.
   He says, "I wanted to see if I could find these items and my search led me to other pieces and things just started to snowball. Before I knew it, I had a small collection, which over the years became a big collection."
   Crooks acquired a mannequin to display his father's uniform better and then he purchased other life size mannequins, dressing them in authentic World War I, Korea and Vietnam military wear. His extensive collection contains numerous weapons used during the various wars, including trench knives, muskets, machetes, bazookas, rifles, pistols and submachine guns.
   In addition, he has knapsacks, mess kits, ammunition belts, first aid kits and rations issued to soldiers, leggings, canteens, life preservers, flight jackets, aviator helmets and camouflage coverings.
   Some of the highlights from his collection are a model 1861 Springfield rifle made in 1863 and a cavalry saber, both used in the Civil War, an 1820 flintlock pistol dating back to the Revolutionary War, a World War I trench knife with a triangular blade and a pair of built-in brass knuckles, a gas mask from World War I, a Civil War artillery shell, which at one time was filled with shrapnel and original honorable discharge papers from two of Crooks' great-grandfathers, who served in the Union army during the Civil War.
   Crooks houses his collection in one room of his home. For many years, he kept his collection to himself, but about a year ago he decided that it had gotten quite large and he thought it would be useful to share it with people.
   "I felt that it might be a good way to teach Americans about the sacrifices that vets make, as well as a way to thank vets for their services," explains Crooks. "Lots of Americans take our freedoms for granted and don't realize the struggles that others went through to ensure these freedoms. We owe our freedoms to the veterans."
   Crooks looked for a local museum dedicated to vets that would display his collection, but he wasn't able to find such a place in the Seattle area.
   At that point, he made the decision to take his show on the road and make it available to community groups and schools. To date, he has been at River Days in Bothell, at the Olympic Air Museum in Centralia, and has done presentations for several groups on the Eastside.
   He says, "Whenever I set up my exhibit, I always get enormous interest from people. They are fascinated with everything and mostly want to know the names of various objects, how they are used and what year and model they are, but they also like to ask history questions, too. I think my collection is a great way to teach history to kids."
   Crooks finds his items through various sources. He frequents antique dealers and occasionally places ads in the newspapers seeking war memorabilia for sale, but often he receives donations from veterans themselves or their families. These people hear about what he's doing and want to give their coveted items to him.
   "When this happens," comments Crooks, "it's wonderful because along with the objects, I also get to hear people's stories and many of them are amazing."
   One such poignant story added a Purple Heart to his collection. A 20-year Navy veteran named Ed DeBaugh answered Crook's ad in a local newspaper, saying that he had a Purple Heart medal to donate to Crook's collection. This medal had been awarded posthumously to Jack Calvin, an 18-year-old Marine who had been killed in action during World War II on the island of Saipan.
   He died fighting to recapture part of the island. Tragically, his 19-year-old brother, Bert Jr., also a Marine, was killed in a training accident, leaving the elder Calvins childless. The couple eventually decided to adopt two boys and one of these boys was Ed DeBaugh.
   DeBaugh wanted Crook to have the Purple Heart along with the letter from the War Department to the Calvins. The young brothers are buried in Washelli Cemetery.
   "It's stories like this one," says Crooks, "that really affect me and whenever I tell it to people, they also react the same. It really shows the sacrifices vets and their families made for this country. I want to share these stories with others as I think they're so important." Crooks hopes to eventually create a museum to house his collection in the Seattle area. Currently, he is speaking to people and trying to put together a plan and a board of directors for his project.
   "I think it would be great to have a museum dedicated to vets, to show our appreciation of them," states Crooks. "I only hope my idea can become a reality."
   Crooks encourages public input in this project, as well as requests for presentations about his exhibit He can be reached at (425) 821-0489.