U.S. Troops Seize Iraqi Trophies for Fun and Profit
Mon April 14, 2003 05:13 AM ET
By Matthew Green
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Staff Sergeant Nathan Braswell hopes a flag he found in a captured Iraqi base will earn him a tidy sum when he sells it on the Internet.
Like many fellow U.S. Marines, Braswell grabbed the trophy as American forces advanced on Baghdad. Unlike the souvenir-hunting majority, he doesn't plan to keep it.
"I got the flag that was in the commanding general's building. It's very large. It's in great condition," said Braswell, 24, who picked up the Iraqi national colors on the eastern outskirts of the city.
"I'm going to put the flag on eBay," he said, referring to the Internet auction sight where memorabilia from the toppled regime of Saddam Hussein are already in hot demand.
"Some collector would probably like it."
Braswell said he would identify the grid reference of the installation where he found the flag to give an added touch of authenticity for war relic connoisseurs.
Other Marines lucky enough to stumble across caches of Iraqi bayonets are making a few bucks on the side selling them to troops who were not so quick off the mark.
One Marine was offering several combat knives to his comrades for $20 each -- although he kept his favorite one wedged in the webbing loops on his flak jacket as a memento.
Some say they plan to mount their souvenirs on the walls -- making a kind of collage of items like knives or shoulder flashes found on military uniforms discarded by Iraqi troops.
"I'm going to make me a nice little plaque that's got the dates I was here," said Lance-Corporal Louis Blankenship, 21, taking a break in his armored vehicle in a car park in the suburbs."
"I'll put my dog tags on it," he said.
MORTAR SIGHTS, SADDAM PORTRAITS
Many of the items might look rather bizarre on mantelpieces back home in America. Trophies claimed included the sights to a Soviet-built 120 mm mortar -- that looks a bit like a piece of surveying equipment -- and Iraqi gas masks.
"When you come home you have to show that you were there, You take some pictures," said Corporal Alex Fala, 25. "Throughout the wars in the past, everybody has brought back something."
Other homes may soon find themselves adorned with portraits of Saddam, combat helmets, military car license plates, canteen cups, uniform caps and pieces of webbing.
Tin cups taken from one air base have already found themselves in use by Marines boiling their morning coffee on camping stoves.
Anything bearing what Marines consider to resemble a Baath Party or Republican Guard insignia has added prestige.
Strictly speaking, Marines are banned from taking war trophies -- but as long as they restrict themselves to picking up bits of discarded military kit, officers tend to turn a blind eye.
Some Marines daydream of finding an Iraqi colonel's pistol, or even taking home an AK-47 rifle to hang above the fireplace, but the taking of firearms is controlled much more carefully.
"We get searched real well," said Corporal Patrick Helmick, 23, a member of a military police unit in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
"There's no way you could get one back," he said.
Many Marines eagerly joined in the free for all by trophy hunters at the odd military store captured along the way, but collecting the keepsakes of war is not everyone's idea of fun.
"I'm not really into that," said a Marine who rides an "Amtrack" armored amphibious vehicle. "My war trophy is getting home and sitting on my couch."