Military insignias drive this Everett collector

Military artifact collectors search for cannon balls, bayonets and helmets.

William Devlin has his own niche of memorabilia, some scavenged from the Kittitas Valley when he was little boy.

He saves military medals, ribbon bars, insignias and crests. As a boy, he hunted through the Yakima Firing Center, plundering the desert for lost or discarded paraphernalia, such as brass insignias and medals.

“We watched war games in Badger Pocket,” Devlin said. “That was social season for us.”

Devlin, 58, aimed to make a career in the military. He was inspired to serve his country on Nov. 22, 1963.

“Our principal came into our classroom, his eyes locked on me, and said ‘President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been shot in Dallas,’ ” Devlin said. “I decided then and there to go into the service.”

He joined the Air Force, but was discharged because of a prior disability.

“I didn’t have the best dexterity,” he said. “It was a bit of a heartbreak. I put that behind me and got charging on life.”

The self-described country boy favors wearing a frontier-style bib shirt. The bib can be unbuttoned and wrapped around a wound, he said. Living in the same small Everett apartment for 30 years, Devlin has put in 35 years as a union construction laborer.

He said he’s good at pushing a wheelbarrow.

The bachelor doesn’t drive — he takes a bus or rides a bike. Once he is assigned to a job site, he figures out how to get there without a car.

He has friends aplenty who goof around with him, Devlin said. He can walk to a hospital for meals in the cafeteria.

“Have I got a girlfriend?” he said. “I don’t think I’ve got one of those.”

He’s been sweet on some ladies, especially one.

“I lost her to the best guy I could,” Devlin said. “Jesus Christ. She became a nun.”

With his computer on the fritz, he can’t order military paraphernalia online. He goes antiquing and got some of his pieces from a friend who owned a shop that sold military wares.

His buddy, Don Loen, who is in the antiques business, takes Devlin to swap meets.

“He is just a neat guy,” Loen said. “He is as honest as the day is long. One of those people who come along once in a lifetime.”

Devlin’s finds are fabulous, Loen said.

“He has a large collection of military pins and medals,” Loen said. “He is extremely proud of them, which he has a right to be.”

Passionate about keeping things neat, Devlin’s collections are carefully arranged in shadow boxes and foam-lined display cases. He showed me cap badges, some from the Indian Wars and Army and Navy medals. There is a crest from the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.

There is even a box of uniform buttons. Some of the loot is stored in a World War II foot locker.

“I am documenting for my generation,” he said. “For the next generation. For thousands of generations.”

As with all collectors, they dream of special finds. For Devlin, he would love to get 26th Cavalry collar crests.

There is one thing he won’t try to find.

“I avoid enemy stuff,” Devlin said. “I avoid it like the plague.”

Columnist Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451 or oharran@heraldnet.com.

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