Throughout its history, the home for South Carolina Post 3 in Greenville has been used as a bomb shelter, USO club and a place for square dances.
But in 2002, the building transformed into a museum — educating residents, school students and others on military history — thanks to the vision and perseverance of Cecil Buchanan, a 45-year member of the post.
“Cecil is the catalyst that really got it going,” said Peter Butchart, volunteer director of the Cecil D. Buchanan War Museum. “He was quite a collector himself.”
The vision to turn the 1933 building into a post museum started when Buchanan visited the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla. The director there encouraged Buchanan to start a museum at his post. When he pitched the idea to the executive committee, the members approved the idea but told him, “It will never work.”
The post museum now averages 12,000 visitors a year from all 50 states and several foreign countries.
“It became Cecil’s passion, maybe obsession,” Butchart said. “He wanted this thing to be so good. He contacted people. He made phone calls. He asked for donations and got a lot of donations.”
The museum boasts thousands of artifacts, documenting each war era from the Spanish-American War through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Included among the interesting pieces of memorabilia that adorn the walls, floors, nooks and crannies of the post building are:
- A display honoring U-2 pilot Rudolf Anderson, the only American killed by enemy fire during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Anderson, a Greenville native, was shot down over Cuba in October 1962.
- The cap of Greenville resident Lt. William Fuller, a Confederate soldier, which has a bullet hole visible on the left side. Nearby, the shell casing sits on a shelf.
- Uniforms representing all the branches of service, including the Merchant Marines from World War II. Included among those is an admiral’s uniform, donated by Adm. Bill Goodwin.
- Bookshelf after bookshelf containing volumes about the U.S. military, wars, weapons and veterans. “We have one of the largest collections of war histories, even larger than the (South Carolina) state museum,” Buchanan said.
Each year, more than 100 school groups — from elementary through high school and even college — regularly visit the museum. During these visits, students hear from veterans from war eras that they are currently studying or researching. Earlier this month, for example, a homeschooled group listened to several World War II veterans talk about their experiences in the Pacific and European theaters.
“The military history is not being taught, especially in the public schools,” Butchart said. “We feel it’s important to teach this part of our country’s history. And we’re doing our part. And we do it not just with school groups, but everyone who walks in those doors gets a history lesson.”
It was a love of military history and teaching that drove Buchanan to create the museum.
“I saw that war history was not being caught,” said Buchanan, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran who also taught computer technology and computer science at nearby Greenville Technical College. “In my political science courses, I made them tie in with past war histories.”
The museum’s success would not possible without Buchanan, of course. And on June 23, 2013 — Buchanan’s 62nd wedding anniversary — the post officially renamed the museum after him. At the ceremony, Buchanan was surprised when he was presented with the Order of the Palmetto (the highest civilian award in South Carolina).
“I was thrilled to death,” Buchanan said. “I think anyone would be thrilled to death to receive such recognition.”
Butchart said that Buchanan leads by example. Even when Buchanan’s health began to fade, he would set up a work night at the museum.
“Cecil is very dedicated,” Butchart said. “He may not have been able to work more than an hour, but he worked hard and is fun to work with. He’s an enjoyable guy. He’s been a great example to all of us.”
The museum is located at Post 3, 430 N. Main St. in Greenville, S.C. Admission is free. Call (864) 271-2000 or visit www.americanlegionmuseum.weebly.com/ for more information.