Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. (July 18, 1886 – June 18, 1945) was a lieutenant general in the United States Army during World War II. He served in the Pacific Theater of Operations and commanded the defenses of Alaska early in the war. Following that assignment, he was promoted to command the 10th Army, which conducted the amphibious assault on the Japanese island of Okinawa on April 1, 1945. He was killed during the closing days of the Battle of Okinawa by enemy artillery fire, making him the highest-ranking U.S. military officer lost to enemy fire during World War II.
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. His father was Governor of Kentucky from 1887 to 1891, and was the Gold Democratic Party's candidate for U.S. Vice President in 1896. 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.
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. During World War I, he served as a temporary major, drilling discipline into aviator cadets.
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." Commented differently by one cadet's parent, "Buckner forgets cadets are born, not quarried".
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 rapidly given command of the 66th Infantry (Light Tank) at Ft. Meade in Maryland. In September 1938, he was given command 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.
World War II
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. Though comparatively quiet, there was some combat when World War II commenced. The Japanese attacked Alaska in the attack on Dutch Harbor 3–5 June 1942, and seized the islands Kiska and Attu as a diversion. The Battle of Attu, Operation Landcrab, occurred in May 1943, and Kiska was invaded in August 1943. This constituted the Aleutian Islands campaign. In 1943, he was promoted to lieutenant general.
Battle of Okinawa
In July 1944, Buckner was sent to Hawaii to organize the 10th Army, which was composed of both Army and Marine Corps units. The original mission of the 10th 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 the largest, slowest, and bloodiest sea-land-air battle in American military history.
According to an eyewitness account, on June 18, Buckner had arrived in his command jeep which was flying its standard 3 star flag, to inspect a forward observation post. Visits from the general were not always welcome as his presence frequently drew enemy fire, which usually happened as General Buckner 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. However, a small flat trajectory Japanese artillery projectile of unknown caliber (estimated 47mm) struck a coral rock outcropping next to the general and fragments entered his chest. 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.
Buckner was married to Adele Blanc Buckner (1893–1988). They had three children: Simon Bolivar Buckner III, Mary Blanc Buckner, and William Claiborne Buckner.
Named in honor of Buckner:
- Fort Buckner, an Army sub-post of the Marine Corps' Camp Foster on Okinawa, is home to the 78th Signal Battalion and E Co. of the 53rd Signal Battalion and includes a small memorial to its namesake.
- USNS General Simon B. Buckner (T-AP-123), an Admiral W. S. Benson class troop transport.
- Nakagusuku Bay on the East side of Okinawa was nicknamed "Buckner Bay" in the 1940s by American military personnel. They often refer to it as such to this day, even in official correspondence.
- West Point's Camp Buckner, where yearlings (incoming sophomores) go through Cadet Field Training (CFT).
- Several places built in Alaska during Cold War-related military construction, including:
- Buckner Gymnasium (also Fieldhouse and Physical Fitness Center) at Fort Richardson (now part of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson) in Anchorage, Alaska, a post which the general established during World War II.
- The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska, once the largest building in Alaska by square footage.
- Buckner Drive in the Nunaka Valley subdivision of Anchorage, originally built as military housing.
- Buckner Drive in Fort Leavenworth's Normandy Village.
- Buckner Gate at Fort Shafter, Hawaii.
- The Patriot Files: "Fort Buckner"
- US Navy Typhoon Havens Handbook: "Buckner Bay"
- "Tour Fort Shafter, Hawaii". Archived from the original on 26 February 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
Buckner's military decorations and awards include:
|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
|No insignia in 1908||Second Lieutenant||Regular Army||February 14, 1908|
| ||First Lieutenant||Regular Army||August 5, 1914|
| ||Captain||Regular Army||May 5, 1917|
| ||Major||Temporary||August 5, 1917|
| ||Captain||Regular Army||August 21, 1919|
| ||Major||Regular Army||July 1, 1920|
| ||Lieutenant Colonel||Regular Army||April 1, 1932|
| ||Colonel||Regular Army||January 11, 1937|
| ||Brigadier General||Regular Army||September 1, 1940|
| ||Major General||Army of the United States||August 4, 1941|
| ||Lieutenant General||Army of the United States||May 4, 1943|
| ||General||Posthumous||July 19, 1954|