Skip to main content

Video: Using Buffum's Story

CWGK Project Director Dr. Patrick Lewis tells Buffum's story in this half-hour video.

The Kentucky Historical Society is different than most historical organizations. It is not only an institution of collections, research, and learning, it is an agency of our state government. Its mission is not to preserve the past, but to use the past to address the issues that face the citizens of our Commonwealth today. That’s in our mission statement.

We—as citizens and we as an agency—have the power and the responsibility to look back at stories like Buffum’s. What systems do we have in place now to help our Robert Buffums when they stumble? How can we improve those systems to prevent Buffum’s demons—opium, alcohol, and suicide—from continuing to kill our servicemen and women after they come home?

Lincoln, in his 2nd Inaugural, said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan”

Robert Buffum served his government bravely and received his nation’s highest military honor. Then he reached out to it when the burden of that service became too much for him to handle. But there was no one there, and that was a tragedy for him. And his family. And that of his victim.

Buffum raises questions that have, sadly, become more familiar in our own time, though they clearly are not new. The question for us is how to turn Buffum’s story into a usable one for us today. Almost 10% of the Commonwealth’s adult population are veterans. Where were the intervention points that would have diverted a contemporary combat veteran like Buffum from his tragic path? How do we make our institutions and our policies better so that the Robert Buffums in our communities don’t fall through the bureaucratic cracks?