Paintsville business hopes to honor veteran more than 100 years after his death

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Published: Mar. 1, 2023 at 7:37 PM EST
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PAINTSVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - The Grunt’s Rucksack in Paintsville is a space for vintage collectibles, military memorabilia and more- serving as a hub for collectors, veterans and community education.

From veteran displays to military surplus, the store aims to celebrate those who have served. A new project at the store hopes to do just that, displaying a veteran memorial that includes personal items of a man who died more than 100 years ago.

“Come to find out, he died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. He was only 19 years old, serving in the United States Navy,” said owner Douglas Salyer. “I thought it befitting- him a veteran- and he needed to be honored.”

A customer informed Salyer that she was in possession of a World War I Navy trunk, which was on its way to the dumpster. He picked it up from Prestonsburg and immediately knew it was something he needed to share.

“Since we just experienced COVID-19, we went through the same thing,” Salyer said. “In our generation more people can relate to this than they can anything else.”

The trunk contained letters, clothing and personal items that once belonged to Ruben Calvin Clark, a veteran from Floyd County who died while in isolation for the Spanish Flu.

“When’s the last time this was worn, the last person to touch this? It could have been a Naval nurse that packed his bag after his death,” said Salyer. “Or it could have been his father.”

The trunk- addressed to his father Calvin Clark- also contained childhood items from Clark, from an original 1902 Teddy bear, to a lock of hair and a small baseball uniform.

“All of his personal effects it just brings him to life and I believe it honors him,” said Salyer. “Even though we may have never known him, you can come in and get a look at this stuff and possibly get to know him.”

While the space is set aside to honor him and his name is on the county memorial and the Archer Park Memorial, Salyer is working to find more information to keep his story alive.

“I was just trying to put myself in his shoes of imagining what he’s going through writing this,” said Salyer. “I’ve been deployed and I wrote a lot of letters, but I can’t imagine being in medical detention writing a letter.”

He is asking anyone with information about Clark to contact him, as he searches for family or photographs to include in Clark’s corner, believing he was likely buried in a mass grave and never got a marker of his own.

You can contact the store on Facebook.