'It's more than just a piece of clothing' - how military field uniforms have fueled a Springfield collector's passion for decades
Springfield resident Thom Lundberg has been collecting military field uniforms for 30 years. KSMU’s Meghan McKinney sits down with him to talk about his collection, and how it has served him throughout his life.
Lundberg’s interest in military history started when he was 12. He and his father would watch WW II documentaries or movies together. He played with toy soldiers -- and made his own figures – and it wasn’t long before his interest in the subject expanded.
“At that age, I started to wonder, ‘well what do they actually wear?’ Plastic soldiers use green or brown and I knew that actual soldiers didn’t always wear green or brown. So, in making those model soldiers, I’d figure out all the colors I needed to use," said Lundberg.
The first uniform in Lundberg’s collection was his great uncle’s WW II dress uniform, gifted to him by his family. Not too long after that, when Lundberg was in college, he started buying uniforms, and that’s when he realized it was going to be – in his words – an "addiction."
Today, Lundberg has nearly 500 military field uniforms from almost every country, along with hats, toy soldiers, games and other militaria. He’s an architect by day, so he designed his military room where he keeps the collection.
Closer look at the uniforms
In a walking interview with Lundberg, he showed KSMU a closer look at the uniforms as he studied the patterns and colors of the uniforms.
McKINNEY: So, do you ever see connections between patterns or the way they wear these uniforms with connections with their countries and their culture?
LUNDBERG: Sure, one good example, let me find...
We walk across the room, and he pulls out a Mozambique uniform from the 60s.
LUNDBERG: It’s called a lizard pattern. It’s also called tiger stripe in the United States, but you can see that pattern there, so I’ll go show you...
We walk over to another uniform.
LUNDBERG: That is a Portuguese pattern that was used while they were fighting, because Mozambique had a war of independence from Portugal. So, while Portugal is fighting in Mozambique, they wore that pattern, and you can see that is reminiscent.
McKINNEY: Yes, they are very similar. It’s as if you took a paint brush with frayed edges and were painting the uniform.
LUNDBERG: I’m glad you said that because it’s a type of brush stroke also, so I’ll show you the original brush stroke.
Lundberg said his knowledge of uniforms has grown since the internet. He’s also a member of an online community of international militaria collectors.
Local and global military stories
Starting May 20th, Springfield’s History Museum on the Square will present the exhibit "Beyond the Camouflage, Global Uniforms - Local Stories," which will feature around 30 of Lundberg’s uniforms and also local veteran photos and stories.
Joan Hampton-Porter, the museum’s curator, hopes people will want to continue to learn about the world’s conflicts after viewing the exhibit.
“The United States’ story also is reflected in these other countries," Hampton-Porter said. "When we talk about soldiers here, we are usually thinking about our American soldiers and not across the world, all the conflicts that are still going on today or aren’t going on.”
Lundberg said he feels honored to share his interests with the community and pay tribute to veterans.
“It’s more than just a piece of clothing, essentially, it’s a connection to the past," he said. "In my situation, my great uncle’s WW II uniform — that’s a personal connection between me and my great uncle who I never knew.”
Lundberg said everyone should have a hobby within their means, as it allows you to think about the world in a different way. Collecting, he said, is more than just acquiring things.
“It’s the mental health, I would say. If something is stressful, that’s[collecting] a good release. I can just think about that or go look at the uniforms or forget about other things I may be worried about at the time," he said.
Lundberg's view of the collection has changed since he first started. He said it has provided him with historical, global and personal connections throughout his life.
“It's interesting to think about the fact that it’s just this thing, yet it has multiple ways of connecting people or areas," he said. "If I hadn’t been doing this so long, I would have just seen some neat looking piece of fabric, but yet, for collecting for so long I think about it differently.”
Lyle Foster, a sociologist at Missouri State University, said hobbies aren’t mindless tasks in our day-to-day routine. They serve an important purpose.
“It doesn’t always have to be those things that we think about that are typical. Sometimes hobbies can be very unusual, but they are just really an outlet for who we are," said Foster. "It’s another way that we actually express ourselves, our personalities and how we navigate society. It gives us a different type of meaning in life.”
Foster said hobbies can not only teach various skills, they also provide opportunities for friendships and learning.
“Hobbies are really a wonderful pathway to make life more meaningful, richer, fuller," said Foster, "and so with that in mind, hobbies I think can span the full gamut of the human experience.”
Some express passions in their jobs or maybe they have an extensive collection. Whatever the case, both Foster and Lundberg agree hobbies are critical to life.