From those who were there

Teen learns military history firsthand from veterans

Teen learns military history firsthand from veterans

December 29, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - Philip Mayhue walks up to strangers of a certain age and asks if they have served. Often, the men he speaks to sign a cloth-bound book Philip keeps as a memento.

In his closet hang World War II-era Navy and Army dress uniforms. A combat helmet sits on the shelf.

Philip keeps a defused mortar, gas mask and Hitler-issued German coins in a trunk.

It's safe to say that Philip, 14, is fascinated by World War II.

"This was reality, this wasn't a game," Philip said.

He is proud of all veterans, but World War II is special.

Learning about the Holocaust in his sixth-grade history class sparked Philip's interest.

Philip started talking to family friends and neighbors, coaxing stories out of them about their war experiences more than half a century ago.


"It's really neat to me to know these people, and know that I can talk to them still," he said.

Philip then found out about a great-uncle of his, who earned a Purple Heart and a Silver Star posthumously for service in WWII.

"He's about the whole reason I'm doing this," he said.

Philip wants to remember. He started asking veterans to sign a book because he didn't want to forget their stories, he said.

The black book is divided into different sections. World War II veterans sign in one section, Korean War veterans in another and so on.

Philip occasionally is invited to an American Legion meeting or attends veterans' events in Gettysburg, Pa. But Philip meets most of his veterans by chance, he said. Once, he walked up to a man at a baseball game and asked if he had served. The man signed his name in the book, Philip said.

Neil Armstrong refused to sign the book, said Justin Mayhue, Philip's father. He has heard that Armstrong doesn't give anyone autographs, Justin Mayhue said.

Philip enjoys hearing their stories, but also understands that some veterans don't want to talk about the terrible things they saw.

"I try to get stories if I can, but I don't make them," Philip said.

As he's traveled along absorbing history, the North Hagerstown High School freshman has made friends with 85-year-old men.

He visits Clark Stover frequently, Philip said.

Stover answers Philip's questions about the war, and had given the teenager his full dress uniform.

"We're about best friends," Philip said.

At recent birthday parties, most of the invited guests were WWII veterans, Justin Mayhue said.

Someday, Philip wants to open a museum to display his collection.

Philip pulls a German flag out of a bag. A giant black swastika is sewn onto a white background. American troops pulled the flag off a German tank, he said. The Americans all signed the flag, writing their names and hometowns around the black blocks of the swastika.

Friends and neighbors have given Philip their old uniforms.

One of Philip's WWII buddies, Albert Losch, once took photograph negatives off a Japanese soldier's body. He recently gave the negatives to Philip, who developed them. Philip's favorite photographs are scenes shot in the air from an airplane. He is sure that one particularly blurry picture is a snapshot of a cockpit.

Philip has been thinking about a military career for himself, but is unsure at this point, he said.

If you are a military veteran and would like to tell Philip Mayhue your story, he can be reached at 301-791-2449 or by e-mail at

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