Jack Waid, historian for the 47th Flying Wing at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, talks about a collection of 80 Airman uniform configurations he has amassed from throughout the United States Air Force airpower history. (U.S. Air Force video/Andrew Breese)
Jack Waid is a collector.
The shelves in his house aren’t stacked full of baseball cards, rare books or sports memorabilia, though. There are no rooms spilling over with comic books or action figures, and his lawn isn’t littered with cars or motorcycles.
What Waid does collect are old Air Force uniforms. He currently owns more than 80 configurations, ranging from Civil War era uniforms that predate the Air Force to the modern airman battle uniform.
“I’ve come a long way from the first two,” he said, laughing.
He acquired his first two uniforms to display at an Air Force birthday celebration while working at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“It was 1997, the 50th anniversary of the Air Force, and I was on the decoration committee for the celebration,” Waid said. “I got this idea to showcase some of the Air Force’s old uniforms.”
He made some calls, found some uniforms to borrow and scavenged local thrift stores, military surplus shops and anywhere else he could think of to find old uniform items.
Then, someone told Waid about Estelle Scroggins, a lady who worked on base, whose husband collected old military stuff in the local area. Waid contacted Scroggins, a secretary for the Academy’s prep school, and she put him in touch with her husband, Ladislas.
The two men talked and agreed to a trade. Waid ended up leaving the meeting with two new uniforms for his 50th anniversary display, a World War II enlisted service dress uniform, and dark blue pants and a shirt from the 1980s.
“I still remember the display vividly,” he said. “I didn’t know then, but I was on to something that changed peoples’ lives, to include mine.”
The display impressed a lot of people, including then-Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Eric Benken, who coined Waid and thanked him for his efforts.
“That was it,” Waid said. “From then on I was hooked and started trying to find more uniforms to add to my collection.”
This was not the first time historical outfits had captured Waid’s interest. His grandfather and one of his uncles were both World War II veterans, and as a kid Waid used to run around in the woods and play war in their old uniforms. His grandfather left many of those uniform items to Waid when he died.
Waid gave most of the items from what he calls his “first collection” to a friend before setting off for Air Force basic training.
“I wish I had held on to that stuff I gave away,” he said.
Today, Waid is a part-time Civil War reenactor and a full-time history buff. In fact, he loves history so much, he made a job out of it. He currently works as the historian for the 47th Flying Training Wing at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, where he spends his days researching Air Force heritage and pioneers.
This job also puts him in a great position to research Air Force uniforms. He’s spent so much time doing this, that he’s now considered one of the top experts in the field.
“I’ve spent 17 years studying the Air Force uniform,” Waid said. “Now, when people have questions or want to know which hat goes with which uniform, they come to me.”
At over 80 full uniforms, Waid’s collection is among the largest of its kind. However, it doesn’t reside in a museum or behind glass enclosures like other private collections. His is what he calls “a living exhibit.”
“I like to take these uniforms, put people in them and display them the way they were meant to be seen — being worn,” he said. “What’s the point of having all these uniforms if no one ever sees them?”
David Schultz feels the same way. Also an avid collector of Air Force uniforms, the retired lieutenant colonel started his collection early in his Air Force career. Schultz’s inspiration came from his father, a World War II veteran, and the war movies he watched growing up.
“When I was a kid, World War II stuff was everywhere,” he said. “(It was) on TV, in books and comics, and I always loved seeing it.”
When he started collecting, uniforms from that era were his favorites — especially those from the late 1940s, when the Air Force was first coming into its own as a service.
“When you see those old uniforms from the transition period, they all look military and professional,” Schultz said.
At first, Schultz would show off his uniforms at small functions, but their popularity grew and soon “snowballed.”
“I was being requested to show my uniforms at reenactments, historical displays and commemorative events,” he said. “The whole time, my collection just kept growing and growing.”
Waid and Schultz don’t just collect old uniforms because they look cool or draw crowds. They collect them to keep Air Force heritage alive.
“I mean, yeah, they’re cool, but it’s also always good to see where you’ve come from,” Waid said. “And seeing these uniforms automatically makes people think of the men and women who wore them and everything they accomplished, from fighting wars to breaking barriers to changing history.”
Finding these old uniforms and uniform items is not easy. Some are donated by retirees and their families, some are scavenged from secondhand shops, and some are simply found.
“Astonishingly enough, I have even received uniforms people have found in dumpsters and in mint condition,” Waid said. “People do not know what to do with their relatives ‘old stuff’ and just throw it away. It’s heartbreaking that a person’s sacrifices are discarded in a such a way.”
By adding these items to their collections, Waid and Schultz are not only preserving a piece of fabric, but the stories that go with it, Waid said.
During a recent photo shoot for Airman magazine, the two men combined their collections to once again bring these stories to life. Volunteers from all over Laughlin AFB made this happen by donning uniforms from World War I to the Cold War era.
“This was really a fun opportunity,” said Maj. Dimitri Martini, 47th Comptroller Squadron commander, who wore blue khakis from the 1950s, a Vietnam-era camouflage uniform and the “Jungle Jim” outfit, a uniform consisting of tan khaki shorts, a long-sleeve khaki shirt and a safari hat.
“When am I ever going to get a chance to wear a uniform like this?” he laughed. “I can’t believe this was actually something we issued and wore.”
The experience, though fun, was also educational for many of the volunteers.
“I don’t know how they wore some of these old uniforms,” said Master Sgt. Robert Husted, 47th Security Forces Squadron logistics superintendent. “They were made of 100 percent wool, thick, heavy and very hot.”
The uniform’s material wasn’t the only thing piquing the model’s interest.
“It makes you think about the person who first owned this uniform,” said Jill Logston, who works at the base’s civilian personnel office and was wearing one of the first Women in the Air Force uniforms. “Who she was, what she did and what it must have been like back then.”
Responses like these are the reason Waid and Schultz share their collections.
“These uniforms aren’t just meant to be worn casually – they’re meant to inspire awe, make people think and remind today’s Airmen of the men and women who paved the way for them,” Waid said. “At the end of the day, if showcasing these uniforms does that, then mission accomplished.”