War stories

Exhibit showcases life of late WWI vet Frank Buckles

CHARLES TOWN – Before he settled on Gap View Farm here to raise beef cattle starting in the 1950s, Frank Buckles spent decades without a permanent home. Working as a chief purser on steamships, he kept items he treasured most in several small footlockers.

“He could only hang onto so much,” his daughter Susannah Buckles Flanagan explained on a recent visit to the Jefferson County Museum at 200 E. Washington St., where Buckles’ World War I uniform, overcoat and circular ID disc will highlight a new exhibit debuting next week. “Every so often, he’d winnow through what he had and only keep what meant the most to him.”

Now she’s set to share some of her father’s collection with visitors to Charles Town’s history museum, where they can be seen alongside other highlights such as a poignant 1799 letter from George Washington and the wooden wagon that carried abolitionist John Brown to his execution in 1859.

When Buckles passed away on Feb. 27, 2011, the news made headlines internationally. The 110-year-old was the United States’ final surviving veteran of World War I and among only a handful of first-hand witnesses to the horror of that conflict still living anywhere on earth.

Upon her father’s death, Flanagan – his only child, born in Jefferson County in the 1950s – inherited the possessions her father had carefully tended since his World War I days.

The Buckles display – to debut to the public on March 15, when the museum reopens for the season – will include the olive-hued woolen uniform and overcoat he wore at 16, when the Missouri native volunteered for the Army and was tasked to drive ambulances in France and England as well as Buckles’ military-issued leggings and his ID disc, the precursor to the dog tag.

Museum-goers also will see belongings related to his work on steamships, as a civilian POW during World War II and as a Charles Town farmer. Other highlights include the chance to see family photographs such as a snapshot taken at Buckles’ formal wedding to California native Audrey Mayo on Sept. 14, 1946, in San Francisco.

Flanagan, who moved back to Charles Town following her mother’s death in 1999 and still runs the farm today, said she’s delighted to share more about her father with the community that he so valued.

The Buckles display will continue through the end of 2013, according to the museum’s assistant director Doug Perks. After that, he said, the hope is to convert the display case into a permanent fixture that spotlights other local veterans’ stories.

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