Every day a great number of objects pass through our lives — things we handle, manipulate and leave our mark on. Each object that we move or change becomes a part of our story.
Some objects leave a mark on us. The watch given to you by a loved one with the engraving worn away by your constant fingering of it, or the jacket that you wore to ribbons because it was your favorite. They carry a piece of you. They become symbols of your story, your life, even after you are gone.
Jayden VanMaurick, a first-year from Holland, Michigan, collects symbols like these. More specifically, he collects artifacts from military history, spanning over every major American-fought war.
Over 40 artifacts of different armies make up his collection, coming from the United States, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Japan, The Soviet Union, the Union Army and the Confederate Army.
The contents of his collection include weapons such as bayonets, rifles and daggers; attire such as jackets, hats, helmets and medals; and equipment such as canteens and wire cutters.
VanMaurick’s passion for collecting artifacts started in middle school after a few good teachers and interesting classes inspired him to dig deeper into American military history.
“My interest in history struck me at a young age and continued to grow throughout my life the more educated I became and the more knowledge I obtained,” said VanMaurick.
One of his favorite artifacts is an American infantry radio from World War II. On the surface, it looks so simplistic that one could easily mistake it for just an old satchel, he said, but when it is opened, an intricate war-worn radio is revealed.
VanMaurick explained that the radio was used by an American radio operator on the front lines. Radios like this would have been used to transmit orders and details of enemy movement to the front lines during the long days of battle.
“It’s my favorite because the thought of what orders and stories that went through that radio must be interesting and makes you think about the story behind this object,” said VanMaurick.
Another favorite of VanMaurick’s is his collection of correspondence letters from an American soldier in World War I.
“It’s just crazy to think that these preserved documents are near 100 years old and account for the experiences and memories of a real soldier in the war,” said VanMaurick. “Too bad I am horrible at reading his cursive handwriting”.
He bought the documents from a collector in Allegan, Michigan, last year. The letters came with a framed photograph of the soldier and other official documentation of his service in the war which VanMaurick just considers “icing on the cake”.
He has found most of the artifacts in his collection in Michigan. He often travels to antique stores and fairs in Michigan cities, including Holland, Zeeland, Allegan, Hudsonville and Galesburg. Other artifacts came from his uncle, who served in Korea, and his grandfather, who fought in Vietnam.
VanMaurick often goes hunting for artifacts with his grandfather, who is just as interested and passionate about history as he is. “It’s like a bonding experience for both of us,” he said.
Collecting artifacts is a way for VanMaurick to expand his knowledge and interest in history beyond what books and documentaries can provide. Discovering and collecting artifacts is a way for him to become closer to the history and the subject he loves to study. These artifacts are symbols that he can study and that allow him to explore the experiences of specific individuals personally, by their own words and belongings.
For all his love of military history, VanMaurick is adamant about not collecting artifacts from the Holocaust or Nazi Party.
He is very intentional about the purpose of his collection, which is to educate people and honor the past. He finds that avoiding collecting artifacts that have become symbols of hatred is the best way that he can honor and respect the victims of such events. He believes that it is important to study and learn from the mistakes of the past, but to do so intentionally and with the people whose lives artifacts represent in mind.
Furthermore, VanMaurick collects these artifacts as a way to acknowledge and esteem all who have or are serving in the military.
“I am very thankful for the service, honor, and sacrifice these people have done and it is something I will never take for granted,” said VanMaurick.