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Unclaimed Property Division returns WWI gun, medals left in safe deposit box

In hunting trip cabins and around the house, David McKee listened as his father occasionally reminisced with a war buddy about the brutal, almost-beyond belief violence of the World War I trenches.

Treasurer Perdue chats with David McKee outside his home in Huntington, flanked by the flare gun and Mason McKee's World War I medals.
One story easily stood above the others. McKee’s father, Mason Shelby McKee, and a German were engaged in one of the life-or-death struggles in the trenches that came to epitomize the 1914-18 conflict. According to his father’s story, the German had seriously wounded Mason with a bayonet. Mason McKee dropped to his knees, the Argonne Forest’s tree canopy looming overhead.

“He had dropped his Springfield (firearm) so the only thing he had on him was this flare pistol,” David, 75, who lives in Huntington, said. “He pulled the pistol out, put it to the guy’s chest and pulled.”

Mason McKee had stored the gun in a Huntington bank’s safe deposit box for safekeeping. The gun, war medals, and other items were eventually turned over to the State Treasurer’s Unclaimed Property Division.

After a search for the rightful owner by Treasury staff, David McKee was reunited with his father’s belongings. On Monday, State Treasurer John Perdue presented the gun and some medals left behind in the box to McKee in a ceremony at McKee’s residence in Huntington.

Treasurer Perdue enjoyed presenting David McKee his father's World War I flare gun, left behind in a bank's safe deposit box and turned over as unclaimed property. Mason McKee's father was 52 when he fathered David.
“We’re thrilled to reunite Mr. McKee with his father’s gun and the proceeds from the box,” Treasurer Perdue said. “There are certain types of property I especially enjoy returning to our residents. It’s hard to put a price on emotionally meaningful items. The war heroism behind this particular flare gun is harrowing but not unexpected in that awful war. Thank God for Mason McKee and his succeeding band of soldiers who have sacrificed in ways we can’t imagine.”

David McKee said some of his past came flooding back to him when he found out he would be getting the gun back. “Once the man from the Treasurer’s Office started talking I remembered what happened years ago, how the gun went from our house to the bank.”

The son also remembered that his father had altered the gun from its original flare gun format. He had a sleeve inserted inside the large circumference barrel, to enable standard ammunition to be fired. The outside barrel approximates a .45 Magnum or .410 shotgun.

Treasurer’s Office staff found other items of great interest in the box, including Mason McKee’s World War I victory medal, chronicling the three battles in which he fought; his sharpshooter medal; and his dog tags, which were in the form of a bracelet then. 

“This means a lot to me because I don’t have anything left of my dad,” David said of his father. “My brother’s the only family left and he has dementia. So yeah, getting this back means something.”

The Treasury does not collect state taxes. Visit the The West Virginia State Tax Department for assistance.

West Virginia State Treasurer's Office
1900 Kanawha Boulevard
Capitol Complex Building #1, Room E-145
Charleston, West Virginia 25305
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