McDONOUGH — Students marveled at the walkie-talkie — a stamped steel, two-way radio shaped like an 80s cellphone receiver, but twice as large.
The device stood atop a table of artifacts dating back 100 years, pieces of a personal collection owned by McDonough residents Lamar Scott and Buddy Simpson. It was part of their exhibit displayed this week in the Navy JROTC wing of Eagle’s Landing High School.
Scott, 68, and Simpson, 78, are veteran Marines who served during the Vietnam War-era and want that history to be told and memorialized.
Over the past decade, they have collected hundreds of pieces to display in visits to area schools, churches and senior centers. The exhibit covers military engagements from World War I to the Vietnam War.
“I’ve been collecting for about 11 years,” said Scott. “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.”
Scott has managed to collect most of his items through flea market sprees in the North Georgia area, while Simpson has built his collection buying from shops across the Southeast.
“We do it to teach students about history,” he said. “If you forget your past, you have no hope for the future. We’re preserving history through wartime collection.”
He and Simpson have loyal friendships in Russ Vermillion and Terry McClure who volunteer their time helping show the historic pieces.
Both wartime veterans have a vested interest in the military histories. Vermillion served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1968 to 1970, and McClure served in the Army from 1972 to 1974.
Vermillion keeps the group lively during exhibits with intermittent jokes, breaking lulls of seriousness with jest.
On Thursday, a cloud of chatter filled the Navy JROTC wing of Eagles Landing High, where the men and a few JROTC cadets spent seven hours setting up cabinets, table displays and mannequins.
About 50 mannequins clad in antique uniforms dwarfed the men as they answered questions from students passing through.
“These mannequins represent men and women that died for our freedoms,” said Scott. “The best representation is Jesus Christ that died for all of us. But if I can get four or five of these kids on the right road, I’ve done my job.”
Simpson said he regularly receives donations from people who might otherwise toss the historic items in the trash.
“The landfills are filled with history,” said Simpson. “But if you forget your past you’re going to repeat it.”
Excitedly, he toured students around the space showing them cabinets full of decades-old flasks, medical supplies, war medals and disabled weapons. He told them about the discontinued miniature cigarette brands and still-thriving personal hygiene products used in their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations.
“This is absolutely great,” said Lt. Col. Mark Middleton retired Navy commander and senior naval science instructor for the Eagle’s Landing High Navy JROTC Program.
“I look at this as a living history,” he continued. “It brings history to life.”
Scott said the trouble of moving the exhibit around is worth the effort, if he can leave just a handful of students remotely interested in history and appreciative of the sacrifices of military veterans in the United States.
His small team of Vietnam War-era veterans exhibits for free within a 30-mile radius of McDonough, showing at schools like Union Grove High, Griffin High, Spalding High and Salem High. For venues farther out, he said, the team asks for reimbursement for travel costs.
Those interested in reaching out to the veterans about their traveling wartime history exhibit are asked to call Scott at 678-464-7494.