Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr.
General Simon B. Buckner, Jr.jpg
Buckner in 1940
Born(1886-07-18)July 18, 1886
Munfordville, Kentucky, United States
DiedJune 18, 1945(1945-06-18) (aged 58)
Okinawa, Japan
Buried
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1908–1945 (killed in action)
Rank
US-O10 insignia.svg
General (posthumous)
Service number0-2730
UnitInfantry Branch
Commands heldTenth United States Army
Alaska Defense Command
22nd Infantry Regiment
Battles/warsWorld War I
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Purple Heart
Spouse(s)Adele Blanc Buckner
RelationsSimon Bolivar Buckner (father)

Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. (/ˈsmənˈbɒlɪvərˈbʌknər/ SY-mən BOL-i-vər BUK-nər; July 18, 1886 – June 18, 1945) was a lieutenant general in the United States Army during World War II who served in the Pacific Theater. As commanding general of Alaska Defense Command, Buckner commanded American-Canadian forces in the Aleutian Islands campaign, including the Battle of Attu and the Kiska Expedition. Following that assignment, he was promoted to command the Tenth Army, which conducted the amphibious invasion of the Japanese island of Okinawa in 1945. He was killed during the closing days of the Battle of Okinawa by enemy artillery fire, making him the highest-ranking United States military officer lost to enemy fire during World War II.[1]

Buckner, Lesley J. McNair, Frank Maxwell Andrews, and Millard Harmon, all lieutenant generals at the time of their deaths, were the highest-ranking Americans to be killed in World War II. Buckner and McNair were posthumously promoted to the rank of four-star general on July 19, 1954, by a Special Act of Congress (Public Law 83-508).

Early life and education

Buckner was the son of Confederate general Simon Bolivar Buckner and his wife Delia Hayes Claiborne. Buckner and his father are named after the Venezuelan soldier and statesman, Simón Bolívar, who led what are currently the countries of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Bolivia to independence from the Spanish Empire. His father was Governor of Kentucky from 1887 to 1891, and was the Gold Democratic Party's candidate for Vice President of the United States in 1896.[2] Buckner was raised near Munfordville, Kentucky, and accompanied his father on his 1896 presidential campaign when he served as the running mate of ex-Union general John M. Palmer.

Military career

Buckner attended the Virginia Military Institute. When he turned 18 in the summer of 1904, his father asked President Theodore Roosevelt to grant him an appointment to West Point. Roosevelt granted this request and Buckner graduated in the class of 1908. He served two military tours in the Philippines, and wrote about his adventures in Tales of the Philippines – In the Early 1900s.[3] During World War I, he served as a temporary major, drilling discipline into aviator cadets.[4]

Inter-war period

For the 17 years beginning May 1919, Buckner's assignments were not with troops but with military schools as follows: four years as tactical officer at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York; one year as student at The Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia; four years at the Command and General Staff School, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, with the first year as a student (distinguished graduate), then three years as instructor; four years at the Army War College, Washington, D.C., with year one as student then three years as Executive Officer; four more years at West Point, as Assistant Commandant and Commandant of Cadets. At West Point, "His rule is remembered for constructive progressiveness, with a share of severity tempered with hard, sound sense, and justice."[5] However, one cadet's parent commented: "Buckner forgets cadets are born, not quarried".[4]

Buckner was with troops for the rest of his career. In September 1936 he became Executive Officer of the 23rd Infantry Regiment at Ft. Sam Houston in Texas. Promoted to colonel in January 1937, he was given command of the 66th Infantry (Light Tank) at Ft. Meade in Maryland. In September 1938, he commanded of the 22nd Infantry at Ft. McClellan, Alabama. From November 1939 to August 1940 he was Chief of Staff of the 6th Division at Camp Jackson in South Carolina, Ft. Benning in Georgia, and Camp Beauregard in Louisiana.[5]

World War II

Alaska

Buckner (sitting, 3rd right) with Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid (sitting, 2nd left) during the Aleutian Islands Campaign
Buckner (sitting, 3rd right) with Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid (sitting, 2nd left) during the Aleutian Islands Campaign

Buckner was promoted to brigadier general in 1940 and was assigned to fortify and protect Alaska as commander of the Army's Alaska Defense Command. He was promoted to major general in August 1941.[5] Alaskan waters, including areas along the Aleutian Islands and into the Bering Sea coastline, had previously been reconnoitered by Imperial Japanese Naval vessels in the 1930s.

The potential for some kind of action was considered seriously by both US and Canadian Forces. When the US was finally drawn into World War II, the defense of Alaska had already been underway - but no one knew the where, when or how the Japanese would attack. It came in a stunning surprise attack on Dutch Harbor 3–5 June 1942; farther west, Imperial Japanese forces seized the islands Kiska and Attu, bringing ashore some 7,000 troops (at Kiska) and nearly 3,000 at Attu.

American commanders, including Buckner, feared that the Japanese would use the islands as bases to strike within range along the rest of the US West Coast. The West Coast was previously attacked several times in the past six months (including unrestricted submarine warfare in coastal waters, the bombardment of Ellwood in California and the bombardment of Fort Stevens in Oregon). Lieutenant Paul Bishop of the 28th Bombardment Group recalled that:

General Simon B. Buckner Jr. said to us that the Japanese would have the opportunity to set up airbases in the Aleutians, making coastal cities like Anchorage, Seattle, and San Francisco vulnerable within range to attack by their bombers. The fear of that scenario was real at the time because the Japanese were nearly invincible and ruthless in Asia and the Pacific. We knew that they bombed China relentlessly and by surprise on Pearl Harbor, so we had to make sure it wouldn't happen here in the continental U.S. similar to what the Germans did over London and Coventry.[6]

Buckner gave orders in June 1942 for the indigenous Aleut people to be evacuated and for their villages to be burned. The Aleut people were not allowed to return until 1945, after the war was over.[7] Buckner furthermore objected to the deployment of African American troops in Alaska, writing to his superiors of his concern that they would remain after the war, "with the natural result that they would interbreed with the Indians and the Eskimos and produce an astonishingly objectionable race of mongrels which would be a problem".[8]

The campaign to take back Attu Island took nearly a year. The Battle for Attu, Operation Landcrab, occurred across three weeks in May 1943. The casualties on both sides were high. On shore, some 549 US soldiers were killed, 1148 were wounded, and 1,814 suffered cold and disease. Of the 2,900 Japanese garrison, only 28 survived. Off shore and in the air overhead, many dozens of airmen and sailors of both sides lost their lives during the months of the Aleutian Campaign.

The loyal courage, vigorous energy and determined fortitude of our armed forces in Alaska—on land, in the air and on the water—have turned back the tide of Japanese invasion, ejected the enemy from our shores and made a fortress of our last frontier. But this is only the beginning. We have opened the road to Tokyo; the shortest, most direct and most devastating to our enemies. May we soon travel that road to victory.

— Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., a few months after the Aleutian Islands Campaign[9]

Subsequently, in August 1943, Kiska was invaded by Canadian and US soldiers. Just as at Attu, the weather conspired to aid the enemy. An estimated 5,400 soldiers and sailors had been secretly withdrawn by the Imperial Navy under cover of fog prior to the arrival of allied forces. Allied commanders refused to believe that the Japanese could have completely evacuated Kiska. For eight days, troops searched the island, firing into the dense fog and sometimes accidentally shooting their comrades. 24 Allied soldiers were killed by friendly fire, four by Japanese booby traps, and a further 71 died when the ship Abner Read struck a floating mine. 168 Allied soldiers were wounded or fell ill on Kiska. The bombardment and invasion of the deserted island was written off as a “training exercise,” and the Aleutian Campaign officially ended after 439 days of warfare. This constituted the Aleutian Islands campaign. In 1943, he was promoted to lieutenant general.[5]

Battle of Okinawa

Buckner on Okinawa, 1945
Buckner on Okinawa, 1945

In July 1944, Buckner was sent to Hawaii to organize the Tenth Army, which was composed of both Army and Marine Corps units. The original mission of the Tenth Army was to prepare for the invasion of Taiwan; however, this operation was canceled, and Buckner's command was instead ordered to prepare for the Battle of Okinawa. Beginning on April 1, 1945, this turned out to be one of the largest, slowest, and bloodiest sea–land–air battles in American military history. Despite historic amphibious assets, Buckner insisted on a frontal assault on the dug-in Japanese, although extremely costly in American lives, his strategy was ultimately successful. Late in the battle, Buckner failed to realize that the Japanese were pulling back to a secondary defensive line, allowing the Japanese to avoid destruction and escape with a significant force. Reducing this force in the southern part of the island cost enormous casualties, especially among the civilian population, who were trapped in the battle zone.

Buckner (foreground, holding camera), photographed with Major General Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr., USMC, on Okinawa.
Buckner (foreground, holding camera), photographed with Major General Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr., USMC, on Okinawa.

A quote of his from 1945 was reported in the newspapers back home when he said that he intended to Christianize the Japanese and that "the best way to do that was to give them a Christian burial".[10]

Death

On June 18, Buckner arrived in his command jeep which was flying its standard 3-star flag to visit a forward observation post on a ridge approximately 300 yards (270 m) behind the front lines, as Marine infantry advanced on the Japanese-held Ibaru Ridge. Visits from the general were not always welcome as his presence frequently drew enemy fire, usually as he was departing. Buckner had arrived with his standard three stars showing on the front of his steel helmet and a nearby Marine outpost sent a signal to Buckner's position stating that they could clearly see the general's three stars on his helmet. Told of this, Buckner replaced his own helmet with an unmarked one.[11][12]

The last picture of Buckner (right), taken just before he was killed by a Japanese artillery shell.
The last picture of Buckner (right), taken just before he was killed by a Japanese artillery shell.

As Buckner stood at the outpost, a small flat-trajectory Japanese artillery shell of unknown caliber (estimated to have been 47mm) struck a coral rock outcrop near him, and fragments pierced his chest.[13][14] Buckner was carried by stretcher to a nearby aid station, where he died on the operating table. He was succeeded in command by Marine General Roy Geiger. Total American deaths during the battle of Okinawa were 12,513.

Buckner was interred in the family plot at Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky.[15]

Personal life

Buckner was married to Adele Blanc Buckner (1893–1988). They had three children: Simon Bolivar Buckner III, Mary Blanc Buckner, and William Claiborne Buckner.

Legacy

Plaque on Fort McClellan building
Plaque on Fort McClellan building

Named in honor of Buckner:

Military awards

Buckner's military decorations and awards include:

 
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Distinguished Service Cross Army Distinguished Service Medal
Navy Distinguished Service Medal Purple Heart World War I Victory Medal
American Defense Service Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal World War II Victory Medal

Dates of rank

Insignia Rank Component Date
No insignia Cadet USMA June 16, 1904
No insignia in 1908 Second Lieutenant Regular Army February 14, 1908
US-O2 insignia.svg
 First Lieutenant Regular Army August 5, 1914
US-O3 insignia.svg
 Captain Regular Army May 5, 1917
US-O4 insignia.svg
 Major Temporary August 5, 1917
US-O3 insignia.svg
 Captain Regular Army August 21, 1919
US-O4 insignia.svg
 Major Regular Army July 1, 1920
US-O5 insignia.svg
 Lieutenant Colonel Regular Army April 1, 1932
US-O6 insignia.svg
 Colonel Regular Army January 11, 1937
US-O7 insignia.svg
 Brigadier General Regular Army September 1, 1940
US-O8 insignia.svg
 Major General Army of the United States August 4, 1941
US-O9 insignia.svg
 Lieutenant General Army of the United States May 4, 1943
US-O10 insignia.svg
 General Posthumous July 19, 1954

[19]

References

  1. ^ Sarantakes p. 129
  2. ^ Stickles, Arndt M. (1940). Simon Bolivar Buckner : borderland knight ([Reprint ed.]. ed.). Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press. p. 409. ISBN 978-0-8078-5356-6.
  3. ^ Simon B. Buckner Jr. Tales of the Philippines – In the Early 1900s, ISBN 978-1-54397-264-1
  4. ^ a b Buck's Battle, Time Magazine
  5. ^ a b c d "Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr". 1-22infantry.org.
  6. ^ Parshall, Jonathan; Anthony Tully (2005). Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway. Potomac Books. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-57488-924-6.
  7. ^ Mobley, Charles (2015). World War II Aleut relocation camps in southeast Alaska (PDF). Anchorage. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-9853948-0-6. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  8. ^ Grandin, Greg (2019). The end of the myth : from the frontier to the border wall in the mind of America (First ed.). New York. ISBN 978-1-250-17982-1. OCLC 1057732664.
  9. ^ "The Battle of the Aleutians, October 1943" (PDF).
  10. ^ "10th Army Chief". Star-Gazette (Elmira, New York). 3 April 1945. p. 2. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  11. ^ "GEN Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr". www.militaryhallofhonor.com.
  12. ^ "Simon Buckner – Recipient – Military Times Hall Of Valor". valor.militarytimes.com.
  13. ^ Military Vol XVII, pp22 & 23
  14. ^ Marine Corps Gazette, p.103
  15. ^ "Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr". Find a Grave. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  16. ^ The Patriot Files: "Fort Buckner"
  17. ^ US Navy Typhoon Havens Handbook: "Buckner Bay"
  18. ^ "Tour Fort Shafter, Hawaii". Archived from the original on 26 February 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  19. ^ Official Register of Commissioned Officers of the United States Army, 1945. pg. 124.

Bibliography

  • Sarantakes, Nicholas, ed. (2004). Seven Stars, The Okinawa Battle Diaries of Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. and Joseph Stilwell. Texas A & M University Press, College Station. ISBN 978-1-58544-294-2.
  • Sledge, Eugene B. (1990). With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-506714-9.
  • "Buck's Battle". Time Magazine. 1945-04-16. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved 2008-08-31.
  • Haley, J. Fred (November 1982). "The Death of General Simon Bolivar Buckner". Marine Corps Gazette: 103.
  • McKenney, Tom C (June 2000). "Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner's death". Military. No. 1. XVII: 22, 23.
Military offices New command Commanding General of the Tenth United States Army 1944–1945 Succeeded byRoy Geiger