Greater Johnstown High School student Jeremy Updyke proudly wore a U.S. Navy uniform Thursday night.
It wasn’t his uniform.
“My grandfather died on Thanksgiving Day,” he said. “I wanted to honor him by wearing his uniform.”
World War II veteran Stephen C. Mosorjak, 87, served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946.
“He never saw battle,” the 16-year-old said. “He was on a tanker ship that filled the big ships that went to war.”
Jeremy was one of more than a dozen student volunteers who participated in a living history lesson at the high school auditorium.
Hundreds of World War II artifacts were displayed.
The collection, owned by Jerry Bellak of Davidsville and Kurt Shorts of Hollsopple, drew more then 100 residents to see and touch history.
Uniforms; rifles and handguns; Nazi, Japanese and American flags; bayonets; a dummy hand grenade; field manuals; a German gas mask; military helmets; medals; and a letter written by a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp covered the tables. Each item was explained in detail.
There was a single-shot 44- caliber pistol that looked no bigger than a cap gun.
“It was for one thing,” Bellak said. “Walk up to a German soldier, kill him and take his weapon.”
Several bayonets lined the tables.
“The bayonet was not sharp,” Bellak said. “It would go in and cause massive blood loss.”
There was a bazooka training round.
“It was what they used against military vehicles,” he said.
There were several field manuals explaining everything from dismantling a Sherman tank to military protocol.
“It tells you you better salute a senior officer,” Shorts said.
Shorts displayed a box with a telephone inside and a long phone line.
“There is a crank on the side which rang on the other end,” he said.
“If somebody cut your phone line, you were dead in the water.”
There was a German gas mask.
“These were the types of masks they would wear when they put people in the gas chamber,” Shorts said.
Bellak said he has been collecting World War II history since high school.
“I started out with a German Iron Cross and threw it into a shoebox,” he said. “The shoebox got full and I got a bigger box, then a bigger box to where I am today.”
Bellak and Shorts have been displaying World War II history for about four years. They have visited several school districts.
Bellak said when they began visiting schools they were concerned some might object to displaying fire arms and Nazi flags.
He said the concerns were unfounded.
“People understand this is history,” he said. “Students can look at a magazine or watch it on the History Channel, but to actually see the real thing is an exciting learning experience.”
Bellak balks at placing a price tag on the collection.
“The letter from Auschwitz,” he said. “How do you put a price tag on that?”
Any organization interested in hosting a living history demonstration can contact Bellak at 288-5368.
Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on twitter.com/PatBuchnowskiTD.