Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Learning about History through a Traveling Military Exhibit

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.
Russ Vermillion, Lamar Scott, Buddy Simpson, Marty Potash

Recently, my school was lucky enough to host a traveling exhibit of historic military items ranging from World War I through Vietnam.  The exhibit contains items from the personal collection of two local Marine Veterans, Buddy Simpson and Lamar Scott.  They have been amassing the collection for over a decade and have been offering it to schools for the last six years, free of charge.  Not only do they set up the exhibit but they, along with fellow Veterans man the exhibit during the day.  Students get to see all the artifacts, and the Veterans are on hand to explain all the items and answer questions.  Plus they often tell stories to go along with the artifacts.

Vietnam Era Items
Picture of Lamar Scott as well as
helmet he wore in Vietnam
For our school, the exhibit was set up in our Media Center and occupied all available space possible.  Originally, we had booked the exhibit for one day, however, scheduling conflicts pushed it to two days.  Once the exhibit was set up, we were grateful for the mix up and happy to have the exhibit longer than originally planned.  The exhibit is so massive it takes a full day for set up and another for take down.  Over the course of two days, all World History and US History students were able to tour it.  However, the exhibit turned out to be so popular that by the second day, Geography and Government students were asking to go.  So, next year the plan is to expand to a full week and even create a community night so that students can bring their families to tour. 

Mannequins clad with uniforms from different eras. 

Mr. Simpson showing students items
“I started off with just a little bit of a collection. I went from a few shelves in the bedroom to a 6-by-12-foot trailer. And now we have an 8-by-20-foot trailer,” said Mr. Scott.  Really the collection is much larger than we had expected and the look on our faces when the Veterans first opened the trailer was priceless. However, as we helped unload and set up it was exciting.  Many of us enjoyed looking over the exhibit and holding many of the historical items.  For example, our AP Psychology teacher was able to flip through a book from World War II, Psychology and the Fighting Man.

Why amass so many artifacts and create a traveling exhibit?  According to Mr. Simpson, “We do it to teach students about history, if you forget your past, you have no hope for the future. We’re preserving history through wartime collection.” Indeed, student’s reaction to the exhibit was very positive.  For many students, this was the first time they had ever seen so many historical items, military or otherwise. 

For the length of the exhibit, Mr. Scott and Mr. Simpson were joined by fellow Veterans Russ Vermillion (Marines), Terry McClure (Army) and Marty Potash (Air Force).  All of the men volunteer their time helping show off the historic artifacts and engage students with stories and answering questions.  As a teacher, I have known Mr. Vermillion for over a decade as one of my annual Vietnam Veteran speakers. 

Authentic Tuskegee Airmen Uniforms

World War I Uniforms and Saddle
One of the stand out parts of the exhibit was the 56 mannequins on display.  Each mannequin was adorned in antique uniforms.  The uniforms are all authentic and show off the evolution of military dress over time.  One of the most talked about uniforms was the two Tuskeegee uniforms on display.  According to Mr. Scott, “The mannequins represent men and women that died for our freedoms.”

Mr. Simpson and Mr. Scott told us how they regularly receive donations from people who might otherwise toss the historic items in the trash.  Something very sad for a history teacher to hear.  Indeed, there was one photo from WWI that was given to them at a local mall.  The woman said she had planned on throwing it away if they didn’t take it.  Not only did they gladly take the photograph, Mr. Simpson then hand made a wooden oval frame for it to be displayed in. 

Variety of medicines.
World War II German items

The exhibit also contains dozens of cases, hand made by Mr. Simpson containing hundreds of items.  Artifacts ranged from WWI cavalry items to flasks to medical supplies to war medals to money to disabled weapons.  Mr. Scott was able to show off the discontinued miniature cigarette brands and lighters as well as the still-thriving personal hygiene products used in their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations. Other great curiosities included a saddle from WWI, an Army issue portable phonograph player, a typewriter, huge walkie-talkies and the wire and phones from WWI. 

I have told all my teacher friends at other schools all about the exhibit.  It was a wonderful week and I look forward to my school hosting it each year.  It really was exciting to have a mini-museum in our school, if even for just a few days.