I needed to visit my hometown of Wichita Falls, TX to speak with counsel and had planned to stop off at the Ben Johnson Cowboy Museum in Pawhuska, OK, en route. Now I can appreciate the 1971 Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor (The Last Picture Show) and the 1953 Team Roping Champion as much as the next guy, but it all seemed, well, a little dusty. When I read that the 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City possessed Adolf Hitler’s personal mirror from the Führerbunker, I knew Ben would just have to wait.
The 45th Infantry Division was part of the Oklahoma National Guard and was one of the first National Guard units in WWII to be activated. They took part in the invasion of Sicily¹, the invasion of Italy at Salerno, the landings at Anzio, the invasion of Southern France and the invasion of Germany. At the end of WWII, the Soviets invited the Western Allies to visit Berlin and Lieutenant Colonel Tony Calvert of the 45th made the trip. By this time the Führerbunker was mostly picked over, but the mirror in Hitler’s bathroom was still hanging. He took it with him (those were the days) and now it hangs in Oklahoma City.
As I looked in the mirror on May 25, 2021, I tried to imagine what Der Führer was thinking on April 30, 1945 as he looked in and checked his uniform before going out the door for the last time. I had been researching what Hitler did and said during those last few days, but trying to imagine what went on in that inscrutable mind was impossible.
My wife asked the docent how many others had similarly looked in and imagined. He replied to the effect that, well . . . I was unique (I don’t remember his exact words). He went on to relate that in the past when the museum turned the lights off at night, some had seen Hitler’s visage in the mirror. I reacted to his ghost story with amusement (every historic building has a ghost story), but was even more amused when he tried to convince me that Hitler may have escaped to Argentina². He went on to say “There were sightings”, to which I went on to say “that’s bullshit” (I couldn’t help myself, I know he’s unpaid, but he still needs to act like a professional).
The adjoining room is filled with some of Hitler’s personal items: silverware, china, linen, etc. I mentioned to my wife, “what if I came home from WWII with . . . “ She knows me too well, and cut me off with a terse “No, I’m not going to eat dinner off of Hitler’s china”.
The room is also filled with an extensive collection of Nazi insignias, medals, badges and paraphernalia. I remarked to the docent on how I found it fascinating how many of today’s protestors wore the same insignias as the Nazis – the Totenkopf, runes, etc. (finally something we agreed on). Although interestingly enough, prior to WWII the 45th Infantry Division’s unit insignia was . . . a swastika!³
1. There are no hotels in the area surrounding the museum. We stayed at the Stratford House Inn, which maybe the finest low end hotel I ever stayed at.
¹ Frank Sheeran (The Irishman) was a member of the 45th and claimed to have participated in numerous massacres and summary executions of German POWs.
² Despite my protestation, there maybe something to the stories of Hitler escaping to Argentina, which was a known haven for numerous other Nazis like Eichmann, Mengele and Pavelić. In the 70s, a reporter interviewed a man who claimed to be Hitler. The reporter asked if he had to do it all over again would he do anything different, to which the could be Der Führer replied in a rather clipped Bavarian-Austrian accent “no more mister nice guy!” (courtesy of D.H.).
³ Many Native American tribes in the southwest United States used the swastika as a symbol of friendship.