See a real vintage WW2 helmet up close

See a WWII combat helmet up close

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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, heard a shot and 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 he was 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 WW2.

As long as he lived, his small home was 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.

YouTube video

About these combat helmets

The M1 helmet was a combat helmet used by the United States military during WWII and for a few decades afterward.

The M1C helmet seen here was designed especially for paratroopers. It had chinstrap holders (bales) that swiveled, instead of being spot welded. This made them less likely to break off, which was one big thing that set them apart from the M1 helmet.

(Note: The helmet type identification is mine, made with the help of several sources, including this one. My grandfather and I never discussed the finer points of helmet construction. ;-) If I’m wrong, please feel free to leave a comment to let me know!)

Unlike many of today’s bicycle helmets and other sporting headgear — 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.

WWII helmets

Vintage WW2 M1C military helmet: Rank

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 the movie Saving Private Ryan (as the character Captain John H Miller).

MORE: 100+ D-Day pictures: See WWII’s Operation Overlord in June 1944, plus get historical insight from 25 years later

WW2 military helmet - Army Captain

WW2 M1C helmet: Officer identification

The vertical bar on the back of the helmet, as seen here, denotes an officer. 

What’s the mesh on the outside? The Army often used netting to help reduce the helmet’s shine (minimizing its visibility to the enemy), and also to make it easy to add leaves, branches, etc. to help create camouflage.

WW2 M1C helmet Officer

WW2 helmet: Paratrooper regiment symbol

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.

WW2 helmet Paratrooper symbol

Vintage WW2 M1C military helmet: Inside

The inside of this M1C helmet has straps and padding to help keep it in place even during the most rigorous combat. 

Inside a vintage WW2 Army helmet

In September 1943, my grandfather, Capt. Chester Graham (1918-2015), 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.

MORE: See how the world joyfully celebrated WWII’s V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day) back in 1945

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. Hello,

    That is a very nice helmet you have there and some amazing stories. I am 15 and really interested in WWII and the people that fought in it. It has always been a dream of mine to own a helmet from a paratrooper. So please, if you would ever think of selling it, please keep me in mind! Just offer me a price, and we can go from there!


    BTW, thank you for your grandfathers service.

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