See a WWII combat helmet up close (1943)

I grew up hearing stories about the War — like how my grandfather parachuted into France on D-Day and landed in an apple tree. How they used little metal “crickets” to signal to each other. How his friend, standing nearby, once heard a shot, thought he’d been hit… but it turned out that the bullet had been caught by his helmet. (The round had raced around the inside of the metal “pot,” and while left with a significant flesh wound, he was spared major injury.) It wasn’t until I was an adult that I really realized the significance of where he’d been, what he had seen, and what he had done during those long years of WWII.

Even today, his small home is filled with reminders of that era — including the helmet he wore during some of the darkest days of battle. Below, you can take a look at his original, Army-issued combat helmet from the 1940s, which served him through D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, and events both before and beyond.

About these helmets

The M1 helmet was a combat helmet used by the United States military during WWII and for a few decades afterwards. The M1C helmet was designed especially for paratroopers. Unlike many of today’s bicycle and other sporting helmets — often made with lightweight materials such as fiberglass and polystyrene — this helmet was heavy. It was made out of a single piece of pressed steel, and weighed nearly three pounds.

Rank

Photo 1: The symbol on the front of the helmet is the rank insignia — in this case, it means Captain. The same identifier appears on Tom Hanks’ helmet in Saving Private Ryan (as the character Captain John H Miller), as seen in the poster above right.

 

Officer

Photo 2: The vertical bar on the back of the helmet denotes an officer. What’s the mesh on the outside? The Army often used netting to help reduce the helmet’s shine (reducing its visibility to the enemy), and also to make it easy to add leaves, branches, etc. to help create camouflage.

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Paratrooper symbol

Photo 3: The side of the helmet shows a couple of lightning bolts. These are “Double Firebolts,” designating a member of the 508th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment), 2nd Battalion.

 

A peek inside

Photo 4: The inside of this M1 helmet has straps and padding to help keep it in place even during the most rigorous combat. (This helmet’s chin strap has apparently been removed.)

In September 1943, my grandfather, Capt. Chester Graham, was assigned as the Commanding Officer of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Then, in August 1944, he became the Regimental Liaison Officer between the 508th and the 82nd Division Headquarters. In 2009, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal.

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