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Editor's note: This is the first Teacher Spotlight, a regular feature about interesting things teachers do outside the classroom.

John Manolis missed being drafted during the Vietnam War. He is too young to have fought in World War II.

But he suspects he has a good idea of what war must be like.

When he is not teaching automotive technology at Central High School or spending time with his wife, Kathy, and gray poodle, Princess, in his Spring Hill home, Manolis is participating in World War II re-enactments and living histories or scavenging yard sales, antique malls and flea markets for World War II memorabilia.

Manolis says that being a World War II re-enactor is not exactly like being in a real war, but playing war and talking to veterans has given him a good feel for military life.

"It's not really the same, but it's close," Manolis, 45, said. "You can't really tell what it's like to walk in somebody else's shoes until you have walked in their shoes."

Re-enacting is the closest thing he can think of to walking in a World War II veteran's shoes.

Movies may give you a visual impression of war, he said, but until you wear the clothing, hold the weapons and smell the leather, the wool, the canvas and the smoke, one cannot know what the battlefield is like.

"It's the smell, the feeling you get from wearing the clothes, firing the weapons and lying in the dirt," Manolis said. "It's hard to describe."

Manolis, and his friend, Alan Campbell, of Pasco County, do not just play war for fun. They do it to honor those who fought in the war and to keep their memories alive for generations who will never understand what world wars were, they said.

"This is for the front-line guys, they're all heroes," said Manolis, who had three uncles who fought in World War II. "They're the ones who spent months at a time in the cold, in the wet, and their clothes literally rotting off of them."

To spend a few hours talking to Manolis, one would never know he is a newcomer to re-enactment.

An authentic military jeep is in his driveway. One day, he will park it in the garage when he is finished restoring the old car parked there. His spare bedroom closet is filled with jackets, shirts, pants, boots, ponchos, caps, helmets, field packs, T-handled shovels and grenades from throughout the war.

Boxes are filled with wool blankets, field phones, artillery belts, tents and pictures of Manolis and his buddies. Slipping a tan, woolen jeep cap on his head, he grinned.

"Gen. Patton hated jeep caps," he said.

In 1984, when his Uncle Mike George, a World War II veteran, died, Manolis helped his aunt sort through his belongings. He came across a barrel of Army items that was about to be thrown out. He knew it was a good idea to keep his uncle's things, but it was not until 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, when Manolis decided to dig through the items and try to put together an entire uniform.

He started searching for items and met others interested in preserving relics of World War II.

"One thing led to another, and pretty soon I was hooked," he said. "Now, I am on a constant hunt for new things.

"It's a good day when I come across a duffel bag full. It's just amazing what some people throw away."

Each May, when history teachers reach World War II, Manolis brings his treasures to Central High and sets up a living history and field display.

"I just love this, I love passing along the authenticity of history," he said. "I guess you could say I'm hooked."

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