Mt. Morris veteran honors family, service members with military memorabilia
‘I always had an interest because of my grandfather's military history’
MT. MORRIS — Oregon native and current Mt. Morris resident and veteran David Waters retired from the Army in 2020, but has since been keeping his military interest alive with a memorabilia collection.
Much of Waters’ memorabilia relates to his grandfather, Lindsay R. Waters, who joined the Army during The Great Depression and served for four years before entering the Navy and serving at Pearl Harbor during the attacks on Dec. 7, 1941.
“When Pearl Harbor took place, they took so many casualties that he pretty much got a battlefield commission overnight,” Waters said. “The ship's orders credit him for shooting down two of the 29 Japanese aircraft that day. I have a piece of shrapnel from that day. I had a shadow box made up for him years ago. It's focused around a piece of shrapnel that hit his destroyer. He was on the USS Shaw (DD-373). It was the subject of one of the most iconic photographs taken of Pearl Harbor that day. It was a huge explosion. He went on to serve out through the rest of the war and retired just before the Cuban Missile Crisis took place.”
Waters’ collection also includes his grandfather’s military medals, the USS Shaw ship’s orders, and photographs of the ship and Lindsay R. Waters receiving his Purple Heart. He also owns other World War II memorabilia that he inherited from his mother’s side of the family.
“That's all German. I have an authentic German K98, an authentic German Luger with the holster and everything,” Waters said. “And that's only because my great uncle was shot down over Europe during WWII and got into a prisoner of war camp. When it got liberated, GIs said to take whatever they wanted. And he grabbed that stuff.”
David Waters himself joined the Army in 2001 before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which changed the trajectory of his service. He spent time serving in Kosovo and did two tours of duty in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan. He also served in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts and did a month-long training mission in Poland in 2007.
Waters was in the Illinois National Guard for 16 years as well after his active service. It was around that time that his collecting began.
“I just kind of wanted to start learning why things were,” Waters said. “I always had an interest because of my grandfather's military history. I wanted to learn more about what we went through and experienced. I always got books and read more about Pearl Harbor and it just kind of expanded from there to the whole Pacific and to the European Theatre of WWII and I just started learning more and more about that war. That had a huge influence on me joining the Army. I just try to do it in every way I can. I look at older stuff and see what works and what could still work today in a better, more efficient way than people think technology can. It's weird, but I just kind of read up on this stuff.”
Waters is also currently building a military library and map room. He plans to do more collecting in the future. He collects military unit panoramics as well.
“I don't know who these people are, but you see them in thrift stores and junk stores and things like that,” Waters said. “Or just old photographs of cavalry units or World War I or WWII units. I found one going all the way back to the Spanish-American War. I just really like those photographs. You look at the people and the faces and you start wondering who they were, where they're from, what they did after they survived whatever they went through and what their life was like afterwards. It's kind of a human-interest story for me."
The piece of shrapnel from Pearl Harbor holds a meaningful spot in Waters’ collection.
“I've always just been told that it's from the bomb,” Waters said. “It does have a munition-type texture. But if you get right down to it, it really could have been any part of anything. It definitely has residue on it, because when I first inherited it I put it on my keychain to bring home with me and it was flagged at the airport. That told me it has something on it.”
Being from a military family gave Waters discipline, and caused him to view the world in a different light, both growing up and as an adult, he said on Nov. 2, as Veterans Day (Nov. 11) approached. Memorabilia is one way to commemorate service that he enjoys, and hearing stories from other veterans is another.
"I like talking to other veterans and hearing their stories and what they saw and experienced,” Waters said. “I like the camaraderie of just sharing stories more than anything. You hear good stories that you wouldn't hear anywhere else in the world. You live one of those lives where some people won't believe the stories you have. Only the people that you can really connect with will believe, know and understand what you're saying.”