Jerome Oxman, who started a mail-order business in the early 1960s that grew into a sprawling Santa Fe Springs outlet that became both a military surplus store and a military museum, has died. He was 97.
Oxman died of prostate cancer Feb. 22 at his Buena Park home, said his son, Brian.
Oxman was an expert at buying items at government auctions, and his love for surplus military gear was honed by three years of World War II duty on a U.S. Army supply line in Iran. He worked at a Vernon surplus store before starting Oxman's Surplus Inc. at Rosecrans and Valley View avenues in 1961.
"There used to be so much surplus equipment stored by aircraft companies and military bases all over the country," he told The Times two years ago. "Now, it's hard to find."
Oxman started his historical collection in 1950 when his employer sent him to pick up a load of government gear at a surplus warehouse. On a whim, he purchased a discarded Norden bomb sight, which in 1940 had cost the equivalent of about $125,000 in today's dollars. Oxman paid $9.80.
"This thing was so secret it was set up with explosives to blow up if the plane was shot down or captured," Oxman would explain to visitors at his museum, which included a dining area he called the "Mess Tent Cafe" that served up military field rations.
At the time of his death, his collection contained some 1,600 items.
Oxman, who sometimes staged Saturday "Lunch with a Hero" events that paid tribute to military veterans, reveled in explaining the history and uses of artifacts on display. He encouraged young and old to sit in a B-17 cockpit near his store's front door and delighted in saying that he bought it for $100 in 1963 from an archaeological team that had found it buried in the Sahara Desert.
Much of Oxman's trove was a hands-on collection. He had fighter jet ejector seats that visitors could climb into and a heat-seeking missile with a tip they could unscrew to see its inner workings.
Other pieces, including a 1940s land mine, a pair of "minefield walking shoes" that were supposed to protect soldiers, and the funnel-like "fighter pilot relief tube," were kept behind glass.
First-time visitors to the store were invariably surprised by the museum pieces.
"One time, someone from Rockwell came in and saw my dad's Hound Dog air-to-surface missile gyro that was used on the B-52 and reported it to the FBI," Brian Oxman said. "Pretty soon, the men in black showed up and tried to take it, saying it was still classified. Dad refused to let them have it."
Another time, a customer set her handbag down in front of a parabolic mirror used in a World War II signaling device. Sun streaming through a window hit the curved glass just right, setting the purse on fire.
Oxman's community involvement included sponsoring the La Mirada Little League for 48 years.
Born June 23, 1915, in Duluth, Minn., Oxman married Miriam Averbook of Wisconsin in 1947. The couple came to California on their honeymoon and never went back.
In addition to his wife, Oxman's survivors include his sons Murray, Jason and Brian; sister Reene Oxman; and four grandchildren.
The family plans to continue operating the surplus store and museum.
A memorial will be held at 2 p.m. March 24 at the museum, 14128 E. Rosecrans Ave.