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1. I was very close to my paternal grandfather, Charles “Chuck” Zuch, who passed five years ago. Chuck (well, Grandpa to me) fought with the 28th “Keystone” Infantry Division in the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest. He told me a number of interesting, if not “crazy,” stories about the war but rarely elaborated due to the emotion it stirred. And he gave me a number of items bearing swastikas, including one I’d particularly like to learn about, which he took off a German soldier he had killed: a wooden case that has an Iron Cross pin and booklet inside. Thanks in advance.  —Kurt A. Zuch, Atlanta, Ga.

The medal is not an Iron Cross, but an Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter: the Cross of Honor of the German Mother. The Reich issued this decoration from 1939–1945 in bronze, silver, or gold; in 1939, more than three million women were eligible. The lowest order, the bronze, went to women who conceived four children. The silver went to women bearing six or seven children, and the gold—the 1st Class Order, which yours appears to be—honored mothers of eight or more children. Nazi Party officials selected the recipients, who had to be not only fruitful, but also exemplars of the Nazi ideal of motherhood—“Aryan” and politically loyal wives and mothers breeding future generations for the Nazi state.

The booklet pictured, Der Führer und Mussolini, is not directly related to the decoration. The pamphlet was handed out to supporters of the Nazi Winterhilfswerk (literally “winter help work”) charity campaign.  —Kimberly Guise, Curator/Content Specialist

2. My grandfather was based in the Far East as an engineer captain in the British Army. He was part of the planned invasion of Malaya when the Japanese surrendered; he instead served in the occupying force in Singapore, where he may have picked up this baton. It measures 62-by-3 cm (about 24-by-1 inches) and looks like a cured bamboo stalk. Could you shed any light on it?  —Peter Evans, Lane Cove, NSW, Australia

I suspect the baton is what is often called a “swagger stick”—used by uniformed personnel as a totem of authority. But its provenance is difficult to determine: British officers did carry bamboo swagger sticks, so your grandfather’s piece is not necessarily something that once belonged to a Japanese officer. He may have acquired it in the Far East. Swagger sticks were popular in the United States military, particularly the Marines, from the 1880s to the 1970s; in the British Army, swagger sticks are still part of officers’ working attire.
—Toni Kiser, Assistant Director of Collections & Exhibits 

3. This tool was my father’s and as a kid I always thought it was menacing-looking, but I saved it. Watching the History Channel’s “The Lost Evidence: Crossing the Rhine” episode, I saw a reenactment of GIs storming the bridge at Remagen and cutting the wires to explosives with a tool just like this. I took a closer look at mine and noticed that it has “US 1942” and what appears to be “WKP” or “WKD” stamped on the head. Can you tell me anything about it?  —Neil Movitz, Greenwood Village, Colo.

Those are indeed wire cutters: the M-1938 model, standard issue for U.S. troops in World War II. The military issued these cutters to assault troops for breaching wire obstacles in every operation and theater of war. The handles were insulated so a user could safely cut medium-voltage wires as well as barbed wire. The initials you see are HKP—the maker’s mark: H.K. Porter, Inc., still in business, made these cutters. Other companies also manufactured the tool for the U.S. government, including the British firm Wilkinson Sword. 
—Larry Decuers, Curator