ELLINWOOD — Forrest Williams has an unusual hobby for a middle school student. While most kids his age spend their spare time playing video games, Williams collects World War II memorabilia, researching and reading books from cover to cover of that era as well as watching historical movies such as "Saving Private Ryan" and "Band of Brothers."
The young historian had some of his collection on display at the Great Bend KansasWorks office Wednesday during the KansasWorks fourth-annual Veterans Appreciation Day. The event featured displays of various military equipment, presentations and provided a time for residents to thank veterans for their service.
"Being there to experience the actual men who fought in these wars was such an honor for him and for myself," said his mother Tracy Williams. "To hear these gentlemen say "Thank you and you’re an inspiration" to Forrest for wanting to carry on their memories was very touching."
The 15-year-old began collecting when he was 5, and now war artifacts fill his bedroom and have spilled over to the basement.
"I collect to support troops," said Williams. "I like antiques." He is still adding to his collection of helmets, fatigues, uniforms, a Roman Catholic New Testament, a Protestant New Testament, photos, a .50-caliber ammo box and much more.
"His room is like a shrine," said Tracy. "At first I wasn’t real hip on it because it was war."
Her thinking has changed, though. "It’s a big honor. I have complete respect. Whatever makes him happy, I support," said Tracy.
Forrest has received items from members of his family that served in the war. His great-grandfather, grandfather and uncles all served in the military. Like many of those who served during war time, few of their stories were shared with Forrest. "They didn’t like to talk about it," he said.
To add to his collection, Forrest has an "in" with the antique dealers in Ellinwood. They call him if they have the military items. He has also received items as Christmas gifts.
In addition, his friends enjoy his unique hobby. "Friends support me in it," he said. "They ask me about it, and like to see it in my room." His friend, Collin Werhahn also collects WW II memorabilia and has such items as a German helmet and surgical kit which belonged to his grandfather who was a radio operator during WW II.
Forrest doesn’t really have a favorite item, but the first thing he collected from WW II was a canteen. Forrest plans to keep collecting and would particularly like to have some guns.
"I’m going to keep collecting," he said, and the only plans he has for his things are to pass them on to his kids when he has them.
Tracy helps Forrest with his collection, too, and made a wall hanging with his badges attached.
Forrest enjoys all things military and plans to join the National Guard when he graduates from high school.
The Ellinwood Middle School student also likes to camp, and is the son of Bill and Tracy Williams.