By Merrick Eagleton
Stillwater News Press
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Every day is Memorial Day inside Wayne Pettyjohn’s Stillwater home. Pettyjohn has been collecting military memorabilia since he was a boy.
“My great uncle, who was in France in World War I, gave me a shell casing that he brought back and that kind of started it,” Pettyjohn said. “I was a child during World War II, and we were all interested in the military.”
In the eighth grade, Pettyjohn chose to attend a military school throughout high school. Pettyjohn said his time at the military school was the best five years of his life. His parents were divorced, which influenced his decision to change schools.
“At that time that was two strikes against any child if their parents were divorced,” Pettyjohn said. “No matter what you did you were a third-class citizen, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to go to military school. When we put on the uniform everybody is the same across the board.”
Pettyjohn joined the Marine Corps and went to boot camp in San Diego, California.
“I wouldn’t trade that experience for a million dollars, but I wouldn’t do it again for $10 million,” Pettyjohn said.
Marines share a bond of brotherhood. Pettyjohn attributes this to their time at boot camp.
“Once you’ve been in it you can never forget,” Pettyjohn said. “I have never run across a retired Marine that isn’t proud of his service, wherever he was and whatever he did. We all went through the same thing one time or another. It doesn’t matter whether the guy is now 20 years old or 100 years old. We still have that same camaraderie.”
Pettyjohn served in the later part of the Korean war. He was on a ship at sea most of that time. After three years in the Marine Corps he served in the National Guard for a year, then he was put in the Army Reserve. Pettyjohn received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology from the University of South Dakota and his doctorate from Boston University.
He is actively involved at the American Legion in Stillwater. Last year, Pettyjohn gave a presentation about his experience as a veteran at the Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery. He spoke about his most memorable visit to a World War I cemetery in France, Belleau Wood.
“As I was wandering across that magnificent cemetery I began to have hallucinations,” Pettyjohn said. “These dead men were coming out of their graves and they were asking me why, why were they there, why were they killed. That left a big impact. Tears were running down my face.”
To him, it is important to always recognize Memorial Day and the lives lost.
“The sacrifices that were made by these largely men but not entirely is very important to me,” Pettyjohn said. “I recognize what they did.”
Pettyjohn visits military shows, thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales to find military treasures, and his wife collects sweetheart jewelry.
He also is a military historian and has written three novels. Each books is a historical fiction about different wars.
Pettyjohn is working on another novel.