Retired U.S. Marine from Greensburg displays WW II weapons, gear at West Overton Museum
Retired U.S. Marine Corps First Sgt. Ron Maxson picked up a 9 1/2 pound M1 rifle on exhibit Saturday at West Overton Museum in Scottdale and told the onlookers he could still “tear it down and put it back together blindfolded.”
None of the spectators admiring the dozens of World War II-era rifles, handguns, bayonettes, knives, dummy grenades, rockets and combat field gear that Maxson was exhibiting had any doubt.
“This is my favorite. It was the first rifle the Marines issued me with when I joined at 17-years-old in 1958,” said Maxson, 77.
He also noted famous Gen. George Patton’s letter to Springfield Armory noting the rifle’s importance to U.S. soldiers during the war.
“In my opinion, the M1 rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised,” Patton wrote.
Maxson joined the Marines in 1958 and retired in 1979.
The Greensburg resident has been collecting weapons and military gear for more than 20 years.
“I’ve been interested in the military my whole life,” Maxson said.
Maxson, practically an encyclopedia of military weapon information, pointed toward a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) rifle nearby, which actually was a light machine gun, often fired from a bipod. It had a range between 100 and 1,000 yards.
“When I was 17-years-old and had just joined, they asked who wanted to have an automatic rifle and I raised my hand. It weighs about 23 pounds,” Maxson laughed.
The next day, Maxson said he regretted volunteering after he had to carry the heavy rifle, along with his field pack, helmet and other gear, during an 8-mile hike.
“You got used to the weight pretty quick, though,” he said.
Maxson’s weapons collection was scheduled as part of the museum’s ongoing exhibit commemorating the area’s commitment to assisting the war effort during World War II, according to Aaron Hollis, director of education at the museum.
The interactive exhibits include videos, memorabilia, artifacts, newspaper headlines and photographs. It will continue through the end of the year.
Visitors explore the revival and decline of local coal and coke industries, the surprising jobs at local distilleries and breweries, and the important work of rationing, buying war bonds, and scrap drives as part of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of World War II.
Museum visitors also learn about a welding shop in nearby Everson, Fayette County, that was part of the effort and can even try on a welder’s mask, Hollis noted.
Jim Weaver of Dawson and his son, Garrett, were among the exhibit visitors . He noted his late father, Roy, was in the U.S. Army and served at both the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. He often talked about many of the same weapons Maxson displayed.
“It’s really nice to see these up close,” the elder Weaver said.
Maxson said he displays the collection to area groups, but keeps many of the valuable items including an M3, submachine gun, commonly known as a “Grease Gun” secured in vaults.
“The grease gun only cost $17 to produce during he war,” he said.
However, he noted they are worth “thousands of dollars” today.
A large 3.5-inch rocket launcher used late in World War II and during the Korean War was demilitarized for display, he said. He even has dummy rockets that were used in the weapon on display.
In addition to weapons and field equipment, Maxson also collects military dress uniforms.
“I have 50 dress uniforms … dress blues, dress greens, female uniforms — you name it,” he said.
Maxson also restores military vehicles. He will be driving his recently-restored Dodge M37, 3/4-ton, four-wheel drive truck in the Latrobe 4th of July parade Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected]ibweb.com or via Twitter .