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Tailor-made rescue: WWI jacket found, returned to family

From left, brothers Wilbur, Ray and Fred Gashel stand with a mannequin adorned with the WWI Army jacket of their late father, Lee Gashel. The jacket was found in a suitcase along a road in Claysville, Pa. by Jay Plants who donated it to Claysville American Legion Post 639, which Lee Gashel helped to start decades ago.

HOLLY TONINI/OBSERVER-REPORTER/AP

By KAREN MANSFIELD | Observer-Reporter | Associated Press | Published: December 1, 2018

CLAYSVILLE, Pa. — A World War I soldier's uniform jacket has been returned to his family in Claysville, a piece of history they never knew existed.

Jay Plants of Claysville recently discovered the jacket in a suitcase that had been left on a curb on Saw Hill Road in East Finley Township for trash pickup about a year ago.

Plants, who jokingly referred to himself as a "dumpster diver," tossed the suitcase into his truck and then stored it in the loft of a building he owns.

It wasn't until earlier this year that he opened the suitcase and found the olive green, wool military jacket.

The name of the jacket's owner, Lee Gashel, who served in the U.S. Army from May 24, 1918, to July 2, 1919, was printed on the inside of the jacket.

"It's really something," said Wilbur Gashel, one of Lee Gashel's five sons. "I couldn't believe it when I found out about it. I sure appreciate it that (Jay) saved it. I'm surprised that it's in such good condition."

The jacket was donated by Plants and Gashel's three surviving sons Wilbur, Ray and Fred, who all live in Claysville, on Nov. 20 to Claysville American Legion Post 639, which Lee Gashel helped to start decades ago.

Wilbur Gashel said his father, who returned to Claysville after the war and worked as a butcher in his family's shop, Gashel's Meat Market, rarely talked about his military experiences.

Lee Gashel, who was part of the Meuse-Argonne campaign in France, the final Allied offensive in the war, did share one memory though: Despite an announcement that the war was going to end on Nov. 11, 1918, soldiers from both sides continued fighting.

"He said when both sides knew it was going to end at 11 o'clock on Nov. 11, they both fired everything they had at each other," recalled Gashel. "He had to go out and help pick up the dead and wounded after the barrage. It took them four days. They knew the war was going to be over, but they hated each other so much they tried to kill as many of the other as they could."

More than 26,000 American soldiers died and over 120,000 total casualties were reported from the bloody battle, according to the National Archives.

The Gashel brothers said they never knew the jacket existed, although they had saved a couple of small relics of war their father brought back with him.

"I never saw (the jacket) before. When we were young, it had to be in the attic in the suitcase," speculated Wilbur Gashel. "We ended up selling the house a long time ago, and I imagine it got left there. I don't know how it ended up on the side of the road."

Lee Gashel was 27 years old when he joined the military. He died in 1985 at the age of 93.

The family unexpectedly got another glimpse into Lee Gashel's life in the Army about a dozen years ago when Wilbur recognized his father while watching a World War I documentary on The History Channel.

Wilbur's daughter contacted the cable television channel and Wilbur purchased a copy of the documentary, which showed his father standing among other soldiers who appear to be preparing to bury a soldier.

Lee Gashel's jacket, along with his hat and leggings, also found inside the suitcase, will be on permanent display in a room at the Legion hall, alongside an antique caisson.

Plants - whose uncle, Larry Sprowls, is a veteran and former mayor of Claysville who helped organize the return of the coat to the Gashel sons - is relieved he rescued a piece of history.

Said Wilbur Gashel, "That jacket is a hundred years old. My dad would be 127 if he were alive. This means a lot. It's amazing."

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Information from: Observer-Reporter
 

Lee Gashel's name and post number can be seen written on the inside of the jacket he wore during WWI on display at Claysville American Legion Post 639 on Nov. 19, 2018.
HOLLY TONINI/OBSERVER-REPORTER/AP

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