Bob Traphagan's basement is filled with the results of more than 25 years of collecting military-related memorabilia.

His collection includes hundreds of uniforms from all branches of the service and thousands of items ranging from medals, books, letters and photographs to insignia and military pins.

"Every one of them has a story, because they belonged to a veteran," Traphagan said of the items. "That's what makes them interesting and gives them value. That's why they're worth preserving -- they all belonged to a real person who served our country."

The Grove City resident founded the Central Ohio Military Museum, a nonprofit organization, with the goal of finding a permanent physical space to display his collection.

"If I could find a location and open a museum, it would be the culmination of a dream -- to be able to preserve, display and save all of these items I've collected," Traphagan said.

His interest in military artifacts began as a boy, listening to the stories told by his father, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, as well as those of his uncles and their friends.

"I just loved listening to the tales they told," Traphagan said.

His interest in collecting memorabilia resulted when, working as a manager at Kroger, he met a salesman who was a collector.

Traphagan began to go on what he describes as "a treasure hunt," starting out by attending auctions and searching eBay for items.

"Then I began to be fortunate to begin meeting more and more veterans," he said. "The objects became more real to me then, because I could begin to picture the soldiers who used them.

"At first, I would buy uniforms and other things, whether they had a name on them or not," he said. "As I began to meet more veterans and hear their stories, it became more personal to me."

Now Traphagan said he concentrates on finding memorabilia with a direct connection to a specific person.

"A lot of people ask me what is the most interesting or valuable item in my collection," he said. "A lot of times, the value isn't based on the dollars something is worth. Something as simple as a canteen could have real value. It's the story behind the item that makes it valuable."

Recently, he met a veteran whose wife urged her reluctant husband to tell about his service.

"She said, 'go ahead, tell him what you did.' He ran an officer's club," Traphagan said. "She said, 'tell him about the biggest problem you faced.' It was running out of ice.

"That's his story and it's important, because he was part of the military effort. You go and you do what they tell you to do," he said.

While many people think of all veterans as having seen conflict, only one out of 10 were ever involved in combat, Traphagan said.

One of his goals for his museum would be to tell the stories of the men and women whose duties may have involved such tasks as finding more ice for drinks, he said.

Traphagan said he estimates he would need a 5,000- to 20,000-square-foot building to house his collection and create the museum he envisions.

A projected floor plan includes a mini-theater and canteen.

Ideally, the museum would be located in Grove City.

"I've looked into a lot of sites, but the problem is that when you have the kind of appeal Grove City has for development, it makes the cost of property pretty pricey," Traphagan said.

He discussed the potential of locating the museum in Fryer Park, "but the city is hesitant about giving more out more land there when it's so limited, and I understand that," he said.

Space was potentially available at the Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center, but since it is a school site, no weapons would be allowed.

"That wouldn't work for a military museum," Traphagan said.

Although the Central Ohio Military Museum is registered as a 501(c)3 organization, Traphagan has not begun raising any money.

"I think first we need to get a site selected before we begin asking people to donate money to help establish the museum," he said. "I don't want to have people contribute money without there being something real for them to support."

What he is looking for is someone who may have land to donate, or who could offer a tip on a potential site.

Anyone interested in helping Traphagan in his search can contact him at 614-808-5263 or bob.traphagan@ thecomm.org.

In the meantime, Traphagan displays a portion of his collection several times a year at events he participates in with the 101st Airborne 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, a living history group he joined in 2000.

Some of his collection will be included in a display this month at the Grove City Welcome Center and Museum.

That exhibit will feature uniforms and other artifacts belonging to service members from the Grove City area.

It will run through mid-November.

afroman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekAfroman