From the November 1999 issue.



By Jerry Price

Although it has become increasingly difficult, U.S. veterans have been allowed, and encouraged, to bring home "War-Trophies" from the wars in which they are participants. To insure that the "trophies" were "enemy-spoils-of-war" and not U. S. Property, every "legal" trophy, from every war, had to be accompanied by a CERTIFICATE. At least this statement is true for WWII through Viet Nam. I have never seen a Certificate from WWI or from Desert Storm. I assume Desert Storm must have provided Certificates. Most veterans, as well as collectors, refer to this Certificate as "CAPTURE-PAPERS".

For WWII, Military Regulation, War Department Memo W/370-3-43 dated 22 July 43, USAFFE Circular No. 21 5 March 44 and Circular No. 267, (and probably others), controlled what items could be retained or mailed as a "War-Trophy". The regulation required every trophy to be accompanied by a "piece-of-paper" that was called a CERTIFICATE. This certificate contains a description of the enemy item (military or civilian) that an individual wanted to keep as a trophy. It certified that each item had been cleared by Intelligence and, in the case of an explosive device, also by Ordnance.

It also specified that the individual named on the certificate, was allowed to retain or mail the item (s) listed on the Certificate. The certificate was signed by the authorizing authority (Intelligence Officer, Commanding Officer etc). This regulation was intended to insure that Intelligence had the opportunity to inspect every item for the purpose of intelligence gathering and for Ordnance to insure that each piece was properly deactivated. There are some words about keeping U.S. Property from becoming a trophy-of-war.

American GIs have always been notorious "souvenir hunters". Any item that wasn't "nailed-down", qualified as a souvenir. The "nailed-down" meant the item could not easily be transported by a 6 X 6 truck. Just being attached by nails or screws never stopped any GI. As for the officers; they used the 6 X 6 trucks.

During the 50 Anniversary Celebration of the invasion of Okinawa, we visited the small island of ZAMANI. This island is west of Okinawa where the Japanese Suicide Boat Division was stationed. These boats would have had a short run to the ships in the U.S. invasion fleet. We were standing beside one of the caves that were used to hide the suicide boats. One of the Army veterans told me how they had accidentally found and destroyed this suicide fleet. He said that after the battle they boxed one complete suicide boat and shipped it to Adm Nimitz as a "War Trophy" compliments of the U.S. Army. They never got a reply from Nimitz. I asked if they had a Certificate for the boat. He conceded they did remove the explosive before they boxed the boat.

Even store advertisements, school books, cemetery plaques, road signs; you name it, were not exempt from the "treasure-hunt'. I will always remember one especially nice 12 foot long silk banner, beautifully inscribed with Japanese characters, that became a prized possession for my collection. I knew it must have been a banner that had hung from TOJO's headquarters building. However, to my dismay, translation revealed that it was an end of the year sale at a department store.

I had visions of a GI grabbing that banner and disappearing down the street in Tokyo. Or more likely, as souvenirs became harder to find, enterprising in-country residents probably created a lucrative business selling most any local item to the souvenir crazed GIs. Like inscribed "meat-ball" flags, which when translated indicated "Congratulations on climbing Mt Fujiyama" with a name of a hiking club. Both pieces had been dutifully "stamped" and cleared by Intelligence. Furthermore, there are many records of GIs, themselves, creating souvenirs to be sold or traded to other GIs.

Sailors aboard ship always had access to the ship-board ice cream maker. In the hot humid Pacific, ice cream was a better barter agent than whisky. The land bound Marines and Soldiers created elaborate schemes to get that ICE CREAM.

One veteran of Okinawa told me of his system to get ice cream from the sailors on the ships anchored off the landing beaches. He went through bombed-out homes and rounded up a bunch of sewing machines. He then hired Okinawan women to turn out all kinds of "Japanese" cloth souvenirs. He had a "sweat-shop" going while the battle was still going-on. The Sailors loved his product and he sold lots of ice cream.

As indicated, in the above paragraph, both miltary and civilian trophies received a Certificate. In addition, the Intelligence Authority and in the case of ordnance, the Ordnance Authority, used an ink-stamp to indicate the item was "CLEARED" and accepted as a "trophy". These stamps usually required the clearance authority initials and/or a number to be entered in the space provided. Just like "Fruit-of-the-Loom" underwear; nothing passed until it got a stamp. The Intelligence stamp usually specified "INSPECTED IN THE FIELD BY JOINT INTELLIGENCE".

The shape of the Stamp can be round, square or triangular. It can be found dutifully decorating every individual conceivable souvenir. Some of these Stamps carry a notation FOR DOCUMENTS, others FOR MATERIAL. Sometimes a stamp just specified CLEARED. It usually contains the Examiner's initials and/or a Number. The initials are always hand written. The Number is sometimes part of the stamp and sometimes "written-in". I always assumed the Number on the stamp was the number assigned to that particular Examiner. Sometimes the Stamp appears directly on the item. Sometimes a tag was tied to the item and the stamp applied to this tag. Rarely, a gummed label was glued directly on the item to record the examination. Occasionally, the Examiner Stamp will also appear on the Certificate.

Of course those items that were skillfully hidden in barracks bags and other places, never received an Examiner Stamp. But anything that was shipped, had to be examined and receive a Stamp and a Certificate. Any items without this Stamp and Certificate were; using the term literally "illegal."

I have an opportunity to talk to many veterans while displaying Japanese militaria at gun and military shows. I usually have something on my table that reminds each veteran of a War-Trophy that he once possessed. Invariably, they make the same comment; "I had a piece just like this but I threw it over-board on the way home to keep them officers from confiscating it. They were going through the ship inspecting every duffel bag and taking our souvenirs. That SOB wasn't getting mine." I've heard that story so much, there must be a path of steel on the bottom of the ocean, from Japan to San Francisco. Furthermore, there must be tons of stuff in San Francisco Bay, where the troop ships docked. I always assumed that those souvenirs without a Certificate and Intelligence Stamp were the items being confiscated. The officers, doing the confiscating, got a lot of souvenirs and they missed a lot of stuff. Most of the veterans that I have gotten rifles or pistols from could not remember ever having a Certificate or "Capture-Paper".

All the "treasures," real and not so real were returned to the good old US of A as bonafide "War-Trophies". How does one tell the "real" from the GI creations and the in-country civilian creations? There is no "sure-fire" way. However, with experience and sometimes a good translator you can come close. Sometimes the "imaginary" is much more interesting than the "real".

Always look for the "CERTIFICATE" and the "INTELLIGENCE or ORDNANCE TAG". Especially if the souvenir comes directly from the original GI or his immediate family. Most relatives have never heard of "Capture Papers." But all those that I have asked, have been willing to perform a search. Some have even provided a copy of the GI's military record along with, a photograph and the treasured "Capture Paper." It doesn't get any better than that. The "CERTIFICATE" and "STAMPS" doesn't attest that the souvenir is original Japanese in origin, but it does mean it was "brought-back" by a veteran as a War-Trophy.

Obviously, these Certificates, Stamps and Tags were created in-the-field by each Unit. All exhibit a degree of interpretation of requirements, by the maker. I can see the company clerk pounding out forms on the big black Underwood typewriter and turning the crank on the mimeograph machine to produce enough forms for the whole Company. Some Certificates use a full 8 X 11 piece of paper for one form. Others put as many as three forms on one page. I believe the certificates were actually issued in duplicate. At least I have found many duplicate Certificates and never a triplet. Some paper size is larger than 8 X 11 inches. Most of the Certificates have two forms on one page with a line in between to show where to cut.

Most Certificates provide the same basic information, the military regulation number, the trophy-keeper's name and serial number, the item(s) and the authority's signature.

Occasionally, the certificate might contain a APO number. Although, the early pieces were not dated, as soon as the war was over, dates, Unit, and APO began to appear. I like the late USMCR forms with the "in-country" name across the top. These documents are a great source for revealing the time, location, trophy owner and the unit that liberated, or traded for, the war-trophy. Some have handwritten notes that might provide vital information, like, home addresses, capture locations or describe how the item was captured. Maybe even a Pawn Shop stamp might record when the Trophy was first sold.

After fifty-plus years, very few of the WWII "Capture Papers" have survived. Even fewer have remained with its original Trophy. Most of the Tags, which were applied to ordnance and other pieces of equipment, have crumbled and been discarded by passing generations. Hot attics, damp basements and sweaty fingers have taken their toll. For those documents that have escaped extinction, the paper has turned brown and has become very, brittle, the ink has faded and constant folding has resulted in tears through the creases.

As a matter of interest the Viet Nam "Trophy" (for a firearm) required three pieces of paper. Authorization has gotten harder but still working. The three papers are:


2. A Viet Nam EXPORT LICENSE (in Vietnamese)


I have not seen a non-firearm Viet Nam "Capture Paper'. I have to assume the Intelligence and Ordnance clearance was required for every item.To help collectors recognize and appreciate these treasured stamps and documents a copy of 12 'CAPTURE PAPERS" (numbered, EXHIBIT A through L) and 11 "INSPECTION STAMPS" (numbered, EXHIBIT 1 through 11) are provided. Due to the condition of the paper and the ink, the copies are the best I could produce. Most copies were reduced to 75% size. The actual paper dimensions are noted and a re-type of the text is provided for clarity.

(Because of the size of this article, I have broken the Exhibits up into several smaller sections. Just click on the appropriate section title.)


Exhibits A thru D

Exhibits E thru H

Exhibits I thru L


Exhibits 1 thru 4

Exhibits 5 thru 8

Exhibits 9 thru 11


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