PAOLA — John and Teresa Schlegel’s entry in the recent Cruise the Burg car show in Louisburg stopped many attendees in their tracks.
It was hard not to spend a little time admiring the rural Paola couple’s 1970 military jeep and dozens of other items on display, primarily from the Korean and Vietnam wars.
The U.S. Air Force veteran and his wife have spent years building up their collection with pieces found at flea markets, antique stores, garage sales, online — even some donated items.
“I’ve always been interested in the military, even as a kid,” John said.
The couple both had family members who served in the military. John’s father, Louis Schlegel, served in World War II, and Teresa’s dad, Billie Bollan, served in Korea. Ten uncles also served, primarily in World War II.
“We’ve always had a deep respect for the military,” Teresa said.
Several years ago, Teresa found the Ford-built jeep in Oklahoma through Craigslist. The couple, who have been married for 41 years, set out on their anniversary to pick up the military vehicle used in the Vietnam War era. It has become the focal point of their memorabilia display, which John said covers a period that includes the Korean, Vietnam and Cold wars.
“I told John if we got the jeep he wasn’t going to leave it parked somewhere,” Teresa said.
And John has kept his word.
John and Teresa have taken the jeep to several car shows and parades in the area. Their Vietnam collection was featured when the Vietnam Wall traveling exhibit came to Paola, and it has been a focal point in a display at New Century Airport near Gardner.
“I think between my display and another guy’s, we had Vietnam covered,” John said of the New Century experience.
Teresa said that being featured when the Vietnam Wall came to Paola was a tremendous honor.
Near the end of the Vietnam War, John was stationed at a U.S. Air Force base in Thailand, where he worked long shifts as a weapons mechanic — driving a vehicle used to transport bombs to be loaded in the bomb bays of B-52s.
“At the end of the war, we were still bombing Cambodia,” John said. “We worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week.”
John decided to enlist in the U.S. Air Force in 1972, after spending a year at Pittsburg College. John and Teresa both attended Olathe High School, but did not know each other at the time and didn’t marry until after the war.
“We met on a blind date,” John said.
Some of the items in the display have a personal attachment.
“There’s a POW bracelet that I wore during Vietnam,” Teresa said. “And my mother wore an MIA bracelet” to show their support for the U.S. soldiers.
John said one of his favorite things about the display is seeing Vietnam veterans talk with their grandkids about the war. Veterans often come up to John to talk about items in the display that they used during the war.
Teresa said sometimes the display gets veterans to open up about their experiences, when they’ve never talked about the war before, according to some of the veterans’ family members.
At a car show in Olathe, a former Marine talked with John about the display. The man left the show and came back with his Marine uniform, which he donated to John to add to his collection.
“It was a big surprise,” John said. “I was very grateful.”
John and Teresa said they also like participating in parades, sometimes hauling veterans in their jeep and attached trailer.
“People yell and wave at you,” John said. “It’s a lot of fun.”