Boxes, shelves and containers at Don Calvin’s Washington home are overflowing with military memorabilia.
From his garage to his basement, Calvin has a collection of relics that could easily be found in a museum. It’s the result of a lifelong passion for the military that started at a young age.
Born in 1941, one of Calvin’s earliest memories was seeing soldiers returning home from World II. He said he noticed many simply throwing away their military gear.
Calvin said he thought the items were both interesting and potentially valuable, so he started asking if he could take them instead of watching them end up in the trash.
Gathering up those items kick started his collection of memorabilia. Calvin, now 75, has gathered many more items over the years.
He doesn’t quite remember where he got every piece — most were donated, he said — but he is proud of each item in his collection. He has swords and other items from the Civil War up to current day.
He has antique officer’s swords for different eras mounted on the wall and boxes overflowing with fatigues. His collection includes guns hundreds of years old that he says still fire.
Calvin’s fondness for the military makes total sense when one considers his family’s history. He said he can trace his family’s roots in the United States all the way back to the 1650s. His family has been around since before the country was even a country and has fought in every single war in which the United States has been involved.
He said the famous U.S. Gen. George Patton is his third cousin.
Calvin’s interest in the military isn’t limited to collecting things. When he was old enough, he enlisted in the Army. He served in between the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.
He worked as a tank commander — something he remembers fondly.
“I like big toys,” he said with a big smile.
He enjoyed the military and the tanks, but decided to leave after some prodding by his wife, Hannah Rose. The two were married in 1964 and she urged him to leave the service, he said.
After seven years of service, he left the Army but stayed involved. He also stayed involved with the military on a different battle field.
With his collection of military memorabilia, it made sense to put it to use and Calvin began doing re-enactments.
Most of his time as a reenactor was spent doing Civil War battles. Calvin said for years he went around the country to different battlefields for Civil War re-enactments.
He served just about every possible role on both sides of the war. The majority of time he spent serving in the Union army, he said.
His experience as a reenactor produced many great memories — the travel chief among them, he said. He enjoyed visiting all the historic sites and also enjoyed conducting a reenactment in his hometown of Washington.
By doing the re-enactments he also was able to meet up with people from around the country. His experience with different groups led him to taking part in seven movies as an extra during Civil War scenes. In one movie, he said he played Gen. George Custer.
For the re-enactments Calvin supplied much of the equipment — he either had or he made it. His garage is filled with what he says are working pieces of gear that he made from scratch.
As he’s gotten older, the re-enactments have slowed down. Still, Calvin enjoys talking about the military and its history. Just like when he was a kid, he still gets excited being around all the military gear and loves showing it off.