TONKAWA, Okla. (KFOR) – Priceless and irreplaceable pieces of Tonkawa’s history were stolen out of its museum earlier this week. Most of the items stolen are war memorabilia spanning back to World War I.
“I just couldn’t believe that they would come in here and do that,” said Valerie Buss. “I was just astonished.”
Buss is the president of the Tonkawa Historical Society, which owns the McCarter Museum. She helps cherish the items that have been donated to the museum by Tonkawa families for generations.
“These were real people who lived and died, and their families have brought all their things here for us to keep and maintain and preserve their memories,” Buss said. “So, we were really saddened by this.”
A Red Cross nurse’s uniform was stolen off its mannequin, along with military helmets, a gas mask and a black bomber jacket with embroidery on the back once belonging to Cpl. Lee Derickson, a 19-year-old from the little town who was killed in Vietnam.
“It breaks my heart so bad, I mean that someone would do this,” said Cpl. Derickson’s sister, Teena Robbins.
The devastating theft is stirring up memories of grief.
“That day when the officers came, I was a little girl. I just sat there and bawled,” Robbins said. “I went and hid in a closet and bawled for hours.”
That jacket was donated by Cpl. Derickson’s high school friend, Vietnam veteran Mike Schatz.
“It’s a very personal item for me. I mean, I really didn’t even really want to give it, put it here,” Schatz said.
Schatz has helped collect military items from families over the years.
“Most of these people, and names, and everything, I know who they are. I’ve lived with these people all my life,” Schatz said.
Other items stolen include a German flag from the war prisoner’s camp in Tonkawa, a rocket propelled grenade and a bugle from World War I.
The room that held school memorabilia also had two flags from Northern Oklahoma College stolen, that Buss believes may have been mistaken for OU flags.
She also said she believes someone may be trying to sell the items to private collectors.
“Usually people are here to help us,” Buss said. “We’ve just never had anyone come and hurt us like this.”
The Tonkawa police chief pledged $250 out of his pocket to anyone who can help find the items, and another Tonkawa resident offered a $2,000 reward.
Those close to the museum are hoping the thieves decide to do what’s right and return the town’s priceless history.
“Bring it back here,” Robbins said. “Put it in a plastic bag and put it on our front door. I would like to have it back here.”