Parks Schmidt is curious about those who served their country. He doesn't hesitate to approach veterans when he sees them in the grocery store, or anywhere.
"I'll ask if they have a couple minutes to talk," said the Cox High School freshman. Most are happy to share their stories, which Parks posts on the social media platform Instagram. His @MilitaryCurator profile has almost 400 followers.
One of the veterans the 15-year-old has met is Pfc. Duane Trowbridge. The Korean War veteran joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1948 at age 17.
"We had a nice long talk," the 87-year-old Chesapeake Beach resident said. "He's a smart young man."
Parks learned that Trowbridge was sent to Korea in 1950. Arriving there was "an eerie feeling," Trowbridge said. "But we had a job to do."
He told Parks how he was shot in the head and medevaced to a hospital in Japan. Eventually, he came to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and was awarded two Purple Hearts.
In addition to his passion for talking with veterans, Parks collects military memorabilia from antique stores, other collectors and websites, such as eBay. His parents, Audra and Paul Schmidt, gave him a large display cabinet for Christmas to store his growing collection in their Great Neck Estates home. The shelves are lined with canteens, binoculars, helmets, medals, patches and all kinds of historical military items.
He attributed his curiosity about military history to his father, who shared stories about his time in the Navy serving on board the USS Bergall submarine. Once, Parks said, the underwater vessel made "a wrong turn" and ended up in Soviet Union territory. The crew had to make a quick turnaround.
His grandfathers were also in the military. Robert Duvall served in the Army as a military policeman in Vietnam and in Germany at the Berlin Wall. James Ferguson served in the U.S. Coast Guard in Elizabeth City, N.C., during the same era.
Several years ago, Parks attended a submariner group meeting in Norfolk with his father. They stopped at a thrift shop, and an old military uniform caught his eye.
"It was a done deal from there," he said.
Parks not only collects the items but finds out as much as possible about the owners.
One jacket was worn by Loren Blaisdell, a U.S. Army soldier who fought in the Korean War in the 1st Cavalry Division. A patch on its sleeve designated a unit citation, which meant his entire unit was recognized for their actions.
Another jacket belonged to Norman Mohn, who fought in World War II. Parks, a violinist in his school orchestra, learned the U.S. Marine Corps sergeant was also a violinist and became an orchestra teacher after the war.
He is particularly proud of finding a World War II German field artillery crate, owned by an American serviceman named Leslie Lynch. The small wooden box holds the soldier's dog tags, and some of his personal items, including cigarettes, foot powder, toothpaste, soap and American Red Cross playing cards.
Parks plans to volunteer at the Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum at the Oceanfront this summer. After graduation, he hopes to attend the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York.
He will continue to reach out to veterans, he said. "I want to make sure their stories are not forgotten."
For more information, or to contact Parks, visit instagram.com/militarycurator.