Post dedicates museum to the man behind its creation

The Cecil D. Buchanan American Legion Museum in Greenville, S.C., houses lots of artifacts - videos of World War II and Korean War vets sharing their stories, rifles, disarmed grenades, cannons, a nearly 6,000-volume military library, even the medals of Major Rudolf Anderson, the only man killed by enemy fire during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Its collection represents every war America has fought from the Revolution to the Iraq War.

Buchanan, a Korean War veteran, the emeritus director at the American Legion Museum and now its namesake, can log them all. But his favorite is a bit more obvious, a bit brighter than a particularly rare chaplain's communion kit, which the museum also can boast.

"I guess my favorite is the people coming in," Buchanan said, "and seeing the smiles and learning the history. Because we do try to teach every person that comes in there a little bit of history."

Part of these lessons come from hands-on learning. Students who visit are able to touch many of the artifacts, including the disarmed weapons.

"Young people love it. They just love it," he said. "Every time that we have a school group come in, you can just count that on that weekend you're going to have at least 10 kids bringing their parents back in."

After attending a Legion history museum on his trips to the Gulf Coast, the curator suggested that he start one back in Greenville.

"I thought that was foolish." Yet, by 2000, Buchanan was collecting artifacts, then he formed a committee within his post and by 2002, the museum was open in the post's building.

After all Buchanan's hard work, his close friends and fellow Legionnaires Peter Bouchard and Carroll Kelley decided to have the museum dedicated to him during a special ceremony on June 23, 2013.

There, on Buchanan's 62nd wedding anniversary, he was presented the Order of the Palmetto, the state's highest honor for a civilian, by Ambassador David Wilkins, awarded by Gov. Nikki Haley, along with a bronze plaque commemorating the dedication.

Once the fanfare ended, the museum chugs along, run on donations at the door and sometimes county accommodation tax money, with a school group visiting almost once a week and open on the weekends to visitors. There is no staff; veteran volunteers run the whole operation.

Buchanan stressed the importance of posts to start museums, whether they have 10 artifacts or 1,000, and to videotape each of the visitors who is a WWII or Korea veteran. At his museum, they offer a copy of the tape to the participant and keep one on file.

"It would be really fortunate for everybody if every American Legion post appointed someone to start collecting artifacts," he said. "Saving history’s what it’s doing."