Our Towns

A Father’s Legacy Kept at War Vet Museum

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CANFIELD, Ohio — Lewis Speece, a veteran of the Second World War, enjoyed a successful career as a contractor before his death three months ago. Throughout his adult life, Speece never forgot the sacrifice of those who fought to defend this country and protect the freedoms that he and generations before and after enjoyed.

This vocation led to the establishment of the War Vet Museum in Canfield at 23 E. Main St., a legacy that his family wants to see preserved. The museum is a restored early 19th century house packed full of memorabilia and artifacts that represent every U.S. conflict from the American War for Independence to the War on Terror.

“His dream was to have one spot where people could come and learn about all of the wars, so they would know where their freedom came from,” says daughter-in-law Pam Speece, who with her husband, Doug, manages the museum.

“There are more than 45,000 items here,” Doug Speece says, pointing to a first floor crammed with photographs, Army uniforms, antique weapons, model ships and aircraft, books, diaries, newspaper clippings, flags, and letters from military engagements. There are also German and Japanese artifacts from World War II.

Among the most prized articles is a sword once owned by Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a Revolutionary War hero who figured prominently in the harassment of British troops in New York. After the war, Wayne waged a successful campaign against American Indians in the Northwest Territory. Other artifacts include a letter from Gen. Elijah Wadsworth, a veteran of the American Revolution and War of 1812, who died in Canfield in 1817.

“In Dad’s generation, he was very fortunate that there were many veterans who donated their belongings to preserve the memory of those who served our country,” Speece says. “Today, people either throw it away or sell it on the Internet.”

Nothing stored in the museum has been bought or sold, and never will, vows Pam Speece. “Once it’s donated, it’s here forever,” she declares.

The museum has rooms dedicated to specific periods in American history as well as particular conflicts, she adds. Entire sections are dedicated to World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In 2002, the museum renovated space on the third floor to accommodate material from U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, the third floor displays artifacts from the American Indian wars.

One display in particular pays homage to Gus Kefurt, a Youngstown resident awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor in the battle of Bennwihr, France. Kefurt was killed in action on Christmas Day, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge.

All of the items at the museum are carefully documented and stored in a database, she says.

The basement contains a sprawling model railroad exhibition plus diorama maps of Civil War battles, especially a large wall map of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Speece says that once her father-in-law retired from the construction business, he devoted all of his energy to the museum. “He could do this seven days a week. Right now, the museum is open on Saturdays,” she says, because it’s difficult to juggle schedules.

Improvements are slated for the exterior of the building and the library, she adds. The museum, incorporated as a 501(c)3 entity, is raising money to help support the effort.

“We’ve had people from all over come here and they’re amazed,” Pam Speece says. “We had one guy in from Washington, D.C., and he was surprised at all the artifacts that are here.”

Pictured: Pam and Doug Speece are raising funds to preserve the War Vet Museum, established by the late Lewis Speece, Doug’s father.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.