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World War II Veteran Talks Combat, Founding PA Veterans Museum

“I would like everyone to know that the only way to stop a kamikaze when he is diving at your ship is to hit him square in the nose with a 5-inch shell,” said Ed Buffman, who served in the Navy during World War II.

Buffman, 99, comes by that knowledge first-hand. He served on the USS Missouri during World War II and founded the Pennsylvania Veterans Museum in Media with local veterans the late John “Bud” Hendrick and Media Mayor Bob McMahon. The idea came during a performance of “South Pacific,” he said.

Media Borough requested funding in the early 2000s to fix up the old armory building for Trader Joe’s, and Delaware County Council gave them $200,000, said Andy Reilly, a lawyer who was formerly a county council member and was instrumental in securing the initial funding for the museum to be housed in the armory, also. The Pennsylvania Veterans Museum is on the ground floor, sharing the building with the grocery store.

Reilly said, “Ed is a true Pennsylvania treasure. His efforts, along with those of deceased founder Bud Hendrick, in founding, building, and sustaining the Pennsylvania Veterans Museum are their tribute to all Pennsylvania veterans and will serve as a remarkable legacy for both men.”

“It started as all World War II,” said Jolene Buffman, Ed’s wife, who is on the museum board with her husband. “That was the intent.”

But the museum now displays a fantastic array of donated items from World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  Plans are underway for the Persian Gulf War and Desert Storm. There is even a small display of items from the Civil War. All branches of the Armed Services are represented, along with an exhibit about women in the military.

Dave McCormick (left) and Ed Buffman

The museum features touch screens with veterans’ video interviews and a small theater.

An original crew member of the USS Missouri, Buffman is a “plank owner.” That plank is one of the museum artifacts.

“On April 11, 1945, we were hit by a Japanese kamikaze [suicide plane] coming in low,” said Buffman, who was a gunner’s mate 2nd class and in charge of 25 other gunners.

“A Japanese kamikaze came in on the starboard side,” said Buffman. “When it hit, the Japanese pilot was cut in half and rolled out onto the deck of the Missouri.  Believe it or not, we buried him at sea the next day with full military honors. The machine gun from the Zero [Japanese plane] stuck on the barrel of our 40 mm.”

“The ship shook,” he said. “It was all smoke.”

“I have to be honest,” said Buffman. “I wasn’t afraid at all that day.”

“We had five 25 mm at the port side,” said Buffman. “Those guys stayed right at their guns. They didn’t run. As far as I was concerned, they weren’t afraid.”

The Missouri had five-inch 38 guns, 40 mm guns and 20 mm guns. Buffman was in charge of the 20 mm guns. During the war, it shot down 11 Kamikaze planes.

Their ship weathered typhoons that sank several destroyers in their task force in June 1945. The Missouri bombarded Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Kyushu, and fired the first strikes on Tokyo after the Dolittle Raid in 1942. It sank the Japanese battleship Yamato on April 7, 1945.

The Missouri, along with the New Jersey, the Iowa and the Wisconsin, were the fastest battleships in World War II, he said.

The Japanese formal surrender on Aug.  15, 1945, took place on the Missouri in Tokyo Bay, and Buffman was on board to witness that historic event.

In March 2023, the Buffmans toured Pacific battle sites as guests of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. He’s visited his old ship, now on display in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor near where the sunken Arizona rests on the seabed. The oil that still rises from it is called “the tears of the sailors” who died when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the U.S. into World War II.

They visited Guam, Okinawa, Saipan, and Iwo Jima on the trip.

Buffman described an emotional ceremony marking the 78th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, with the Japanese on one side and the Americans on the other.  He said U.S. visitors are only allowed to come there one day a year.

Although he served in the Pacific Theater, the Buffmans were invited to travel to France in June for the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

After the war, Buffman returned to the Philadelphia neighborhood of Roxborough, where he grew up. He became a trolley driver, then a bus driver. Buffman worked as a frozen food salesman. In 1970, he opened his own business, World Wide Food Brokers and Conestoga Trading.

The military items in the museum were donated and include parachutes. When Senate candidate Dave McCormick visited, he talked about his time in the Army Airborne 82nd Division and jumping out of planes numerous times, said Buffman.

“Dina and I are proud to support the Pennsylvania Veterans Museum, a commonwealth treasure. It tells the incredible stories of our nation’s heroes who fought and sacrificed in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. I enjoyed meeting and swapping stories with the remarkable veteran who helped found this important testament to our brave service members,” said McCormick.

When the museum opened in 2005, the Franklin Mint was just closing, so the museum scooped up display cases, lighting, and other items that the mint was selling.

“The mission of the museum is to educate today’s youth about the sacrifices all U.S. veterans made for our freedom,” said Ed Buffman. Hundreds of students have visited the museum to learn about what happened in the war and see first-hand equipment that soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines used to defend the U.S. In addition to students, Boy Scout troops visit, members of VFW and American Legion posts, and other veterans also come.

Buffman has also been involved in the Media Theater Veterans Alliance for more than 20 years, honoring more than 80 combat veterans at the shows.

Last year, Ed Buffman received the World War II Valor in the Pacific medal from the Island of Saipan. His medals include a World War II Victory medal, an Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, three Bronze battle stars, a Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, a Philippines Independence Medal, a U.S. Navy Combat Action Ribbon, an American Campaign Medal, a Navy Asian Occupation Medial with Asia Bar, and a Good Conduct Medal.

At the museum, numerous medals are on display. People often come to learn what a medal they’ve inherited means, said Jolene Buffman.

DVJournal asked Ed Buffman what his secret to a long life is, and he said, “A younger wife.” Then he added, “Honoring veterans.”

“It’s not about me. It’s to honor all veterans. It’s about all veterans,” said Buffman. Together, the Buffmans have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

The museum, at 12 E. State Street in Media, is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

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