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Memorial Day
From left: Samuel Walgren and John Jeffries during a Veterans Day event in 2021 at Oklahoma State University. Walgren is wearing the typical khaki uniform of a U.S. Army "Doughboy" while Jeffries has a forest green U.S. Marine uniform that was short-lived. Both are from the WWI era.

OSU grad student and marine veteran collects WWI, WWII memorabilia to keep history alive

Friday, May 27, 2022

Media Contact: Jordan Bishop | Editor, Department of Brand Management | 405-744-7193 | jordan.bishop@okstate.edu

John Jeffries is a U.S. Marine veteran and graduate student at Oklahoma State University who is using his collection of military memorabilia to share the stories of those who have served. 

Jeffries received his bachelor’s degree from OSU and is now pursuing his master's in history with a focus on World War I. He deployed from 2009 to 2010 to Iraq, then in 2018 to central South America for humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions. He also has served with the United States Marine Corps Reserve at Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, for the last 16 years. 

Jeffries began his collection at a young age. His grandfather, who was a World War II veteran, would share his experiences with Jeffries growing up. The majority of his collection consists of helmets because his grandfather explained it as a soldier’s home. 

“I have really good memories of my grandfather telling me about how they cooked out of their helmet and they used it to collect fruits from orchards,” Staff Sgt. Jeffries said. “It was a one-and-done catch-all, utilitarian tool.”

After teaming up with the history department at OSU, Jeffries combined his love for history and collecting to give students a better idea of what people in service experienced throughout the wars. Over the last year, he has held two displays to showcase and share the stories of his memorabilia. 

“You can see some students that are just in awe,” Jeffries said. “Especially when we brought some of the explosives. I don't want to say it scares them, but it definitely gives them that idea of how dangerous the battlefield was, and how these guys were living day in and day out with death looming over them.” 

Jeffries said the explosives were all inert so there was no danger of one going off. 

The ability to share the stories of those who are not here anymore is something Jeffries practices through not only his collection, but also his participation in World War I reenactments. Over the last 20 years, Jeffries has acted in hopes of taking his experience and connecting it to those who have passed while in service.

“It has been able to give me a better connection to these voices from 100 years ago,” Jeffries said. “I know what's going through their mind because I've lived it with them. I wasn't in the exact same situation. But I can tell you when you're sitting in a hole, all you have is cold food, your feet are wet and you're miserable, it's probably about the same mindset.”

As Jeffries became more serious about studying history, he started to realize the physical connection that his memorabilia holds. Dr. Wayne Pettyjohn, former head of OSU’s geology department as well as a former marine, was responsible for this realization. The two connected over their avid militaria collections. 

“Unfortunately, Dr. Pettyjohn passed away in 2017,” Jeffries said. “But he was really a driving force for me to get behind at least the World War I history, particularly Marine Corps in the second division, and it really has shaped where I am now.”

Different individuals like Pettyjohn and Jeffries’ grandfather served as an inspiration for him to continue to share the stories of those who are not here anymore. Whether it’s through studying history or educating others through displays and reenactments, Jeffries hopes to give light to their experiences. 

“I think it’s a good way to keep that memory alive, to show that their sacrifice and the time that they spent and gave up wasn't in vain,” Jeffries said.

Jeffries believes that the military history ties into the importance of Memorial Day and remembering those who are not here anymore. He said he believes the holiday is used for reflection. 

“To reflect on how far we've come and all that we've done,” Jeffries said. “And that people have literally given their lives so we can have the life we have.” 

Story By: Bailey Sisk | basisk@okstate.edu

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