He wasn't the first soldier to speak at a local elementary school. But he was probably the first to bring his own musket and blue woolen coat.
"How many of you have been studying the Revolutionary War?" asked Hollyvale Elementary School principal Matthew Fedders. The fifth-grade students' hands shot up. Not only had they been studying the Revolutionary War, but they'd been focusing specifically on the Battle of Guilford Court House, a defeat for American forces that ultimately set up the overall victory over the British.
Fedders gestured to the bearded man in full colonial military attire.
"This is Sgt. Timberlake, and he is here to tell you about that battle," the principal said.
Melvin Timberlake, a member of the Sons of the Revolution, had at least six ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. He fielded questions specifically related to the musket he was carrying — "See those sparks there?" he said, demonstrating how a musket works to applause from his students — but also about what life was like for both members of militias and the Continental Army.
Then, as now, members of the American armed forces had supply issues and dealt with neighbors who didn't agree with their cause.
"Is that gun all you'd get?" one student asked.
"The gun and the bayonet," Timberlake said. "Officers would get swords."
"Were all of the men patriots?" someone asked.
"No," Timberlake said. "You know, only one-third were patriots. One-third were loyalists and one-third didn't care either way."
But in many other ways, warfare in 1781 was very different than what American military personnel face today.
"Why did you have to see the whites of their eyes?" a student asks, referring to a command said to have been given at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
"Because the muskets weren't accurate," Timberlake said, and reloading for another shot took time. "A good infantryman can load three rounds a minute. I can load one round every three minutes."
Troops also rarely fought at night, he told the students, and normally only in good weather.
But the show stopper was the revelation that the students in the room could have participated in the war, as well.
"Nine years old and up, they'd be drum and fife," Timberlake said, serving as a battlefield communication system in addition to being musicians. "They'd send out beats to tell troops to move a little to the left or a little to the right."