To say that Master Sgt. Britt King likes military history is a bit of an understatement. Master Sgt. King owns what has to be one of the largest private collections of historic military uniforms and equipment in Indiana. And it all started with one World War II German helmet.
"I'm not sure what really started my interest in military history," says King. "I have memories of watching North Vietnamese tanks roaming around Saigon on television in 1975, and my favorite television show as a child was Black Sheep Squadron. Any time a war movie, like Patton or A Bridge Too Far came on, I was glued to the TV. All I wanted for Christmas or birthdays was usually military books. I remember thinking, as I was either watching on screen or looking at photos in books, how cool it would actually be to own the helmets, uniforms, equipment, and weapons that I was seeing."
In December 1978, King asked his parents for a German World War II helmet.
"Up to that time, I don't ever remember being as excited about a Christmas gift as I was about that helmet," says King.
That German helmet, painted to represent the German Army in North Africa from 1941-43, was the beginning of a collection that now encompasses over 200 full uniform sets, including equipment and weaponry.
King's basement has the appearance of a museum storeroom, with clothing racks of uniforms, shelves full of helmets and headgear, and plastic tubs full of belts, ammunition pouches, and all the other litany of equipment that would be used to outfit soldiers through the ages. There are even a few mannequins thrown in for display purposes.
Two more rooms in his home contain an extensive military history library with several thousand books and even more helmets and uniforms.
"I'm glad my wife is understanding," smiles King. "I don't think too many women would like having that much of their home dedicated to their husband's hobby."
The first question one might ask is what to do with all this stuff?
"I ask myself that all the time," laughs King. "I love educating people about military history. I attend historic reenactments when I can, and set up numerous displays during the year around Indiana, where I can talk with the public about the items."
King has also taken his mobile museum into schools to help bring history to new generations, and he has posed for artists while wearing any number of "impressions," which is the term reenactors use to describe a particular uniform set.
He has even appeared as an extra on two History Channel documentaries.
King's impressions cover centuries of warfare. He can outfit himself as everything from a Roman Legionary of the 2nd Century to, more recently, a Soviet paratrooper from the Soviet-Afghan War.
"I can't say I have a particularly favorite period of time," says King "but I guess for the sheer numbers of uniforms I have, World War II would take the prize, with World War I coming a distant second. I have multiple uniforms of all the major players in the wars; German, American, Russian, British. Some years back I decided that all the other smaller nations kind of got the short shrift from the reenacting community, so I also started focusing on other impressions like Canada, Australia, France, Italy and even more obscure countries, like Poland, Finland, Romania, and Hungary."
When asked if there would ever come a time when he decided that his collection was complete, King said, "Well, I tell myself I need to stop all the time, mostly because of financial constraints. I have scaled way back over the last few years, but if I see something that's affordable on eBay, and with the wife's permission, I may pick up more items here and there."