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The guns of Fort Casey, and other treasured tales
Terry Buchanan entered into a love affair when he was 14 years old that determined the shape and direction of his entire life. The obsession began in 1962 on a sunny Sunday afternoon on Whidbey. Buchanan, who was born and raised in Oak Harbor, was out for a drive with his mother and father, who were famous for getting lost. On this particular drive the trio ended up at Fort Casey.
“We got there and my dad pulled over in the gravel and turned to the back seat and said to me, ‘Do you want to go out and look?’ and before he got out the word ‘look’ I was out the door running across the field, and I’ve never left since.”
That Sunday began Buchanan’s mission to find every piece of information he could about the retired military post. During his school years in Oak Harbor, he regularly visited Fort Casey and asked other locals about their associations with the it.
Buchanan wrote about the fort for a senior paper in high school, which later morphed into a project at his junior college and eventually laid the groundwork for his master’s thesis following a history teaching degree at Western Washington University.
During the research for his thesis, Buchanan spoke with numerous old soldiers who had been stationed at the fort and survived the first and second world wars.
His father had worked at the Navy base and was able to give him a lot of good connections. Additionally, Buchanan said he discovered lots of veterans or “treasures” in Coupeville with amazing stories.
“The more you talk, the more you find that the fort is intwined in everything on Whidbey Island,” he said.
Buchanan also spent a week at the National Archives in Suitland, Md., digging up photos and other tidbits. When he retired from a 34-year Anacortes teaching career in 2006, Buchanan decided to compile everything he’d gathered into a book, and “Fort Casey” was released in July of 2010.
In a news release, Buchanan wrote, “Guarding the entrance into the heart of the Puget Sound waterway stand a number of empty and abandoned coastal fortifications, like silent sentinels, these concrete gun emplacements were positioned to defend the only deep water navigable approaches to Seattle, Tacoma and Bremerton. They were a key part of a defense system designed to prevent a hostile fleet from reaching the Bremerton Navy Yard and the heart of the Pacific Northwest.
“One of these coast artillery emplacements is Fort Casey. This book traces the history of Fort Casey from its early beginnings in the late 1890s to its present day function as a top tourist attraction in the state of Washington.”
Buchanan now lives in Sequim, but continues to give slide presentations and walking tours of the gun emplacements. On May 11, Buchanan will present his book as part of the Wooden Boat Chandlery’s series Wooden Boat Wednesdays. Visitors will have the opportunity to hear Buchanan’s stories and share their own.
“Every time I go on a presentation, I specifically tell the audience I’m not the biggest expert in the world; I’m always looking for more,” Buchanan said. “We’re losing the people who were there, now we’re dealing with their relatives and second-hand sources.”
Buchanan said he has plenty of incredible stories to share like when President Warren G. Harding was involved in a ship collision off Admiralty Inlet in 1924 or what it was like for the soldiers when they received news of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“The men had so much history to share and so much patriotism for what they did working in the cold and wet conditions. I can’t imagine what I would have been like living in a tent at Fort Casey on the prairie,” Buchanan said. “I really think people who live in the area should know the history of their town, and this is a way to share the stories I love so much.”
The secrets of Fort Casey
Terry Buchanan will present his book during a Wooden Boat Wednesday presentation on May 11, in Port Towsend. All presentations are free and run from noon to 1:30 p.m.
Attendees gather around the Captain’s Table inside the Wooden Boat Chandlery located at the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St., near Point Hudson Marina in Port Townsend. To sign up, email firstname.lastname@example.org or by call 360-385-3628 ext. 101.