Sunday, June 21, 2009

Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.

General, US Army

General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. (July 18, 1886 - June 18, 1945) was an American general during World War II. He served in the Pacific Theater of Operations and commanded the defenses of Alaska early in the war. After that assignment, he was promoted to command Tenth Army, which conducted the amphibious assault (Operation Iceberg) on the Japanese island of Okinawa. He was killed during the closing days of the Battle of Okinawa by enemy artillery fire. Buckner remains the highest-ranking American to have been killed by enemy fire during the Second World War, and the highest military officer lost during WWII, along with Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, who was killed by friendly fire in France on July 25, 1944. Buckner was posthumously promoted to general on July 19, 1954 by a Special Act of Congress (Public Law 83-508).

Early career
His father was Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Sr., who surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Fort Donelson.

Buckner was raised in the rural hills of western Kentucky near Munfordville, and attended Virginia Military Institute. He later won an appointment to West Point (class of 1908) from President Theodore Roosevelt. He served two tours of duty in the Philippines. During World War I, he served as a brevet major, drilling discipline into budding aviators.

Interwar period
Between the wars, Buckner returned to West Point as an instructor (1919–1923) and again as instructor and Commandant of Cadets (1932–1936). Though recognized as tough and fair, his insistence on developing cadets past conventional limits caused one parent to quip, "Buckner forgets that cadets are born, not quarried." He was also an instructor at the General Service Schools at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was executive officer at the Army War College in Washington, D.C.

Prior to Pearl Harbor, Buckner was promoted to Brigadier General and assigned to fortify and protect Alaska as commander of the Army's Alaska Defense Command. Though comparatively quiet, there was some action with the attack on Dutch Harbor on the island of Unalaska, Japanese seizure of the islands Kiska and Attu (June 1942), Battle of Attu (Operation Landcrab, May 1943), and "invasion" of Kiska (August, 1943).

Battle of Okinawa
In July, 1944, Buckner was sent to Hawaii to organize the Tenth Army, which was composed of both Army and Marine 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. This turned out to be the largest, slowest, and bloodiest sea-land-air battle in American military history. On June 18, 1945, Buckner was standing between two boulders watching the first combat operations of the 8th Marine Regiment when he was hit by shrapnel from a Japanese 47mm artillery shell and killed instantly. He was succeeded in command by Marine General Roy Geiger. Total American deaths during the battle of Okinawa were 12,500.

General Geiger, a pioneer Marine aviator, had become the first Marine general officer to command a land force the size of an army.

On June 21, 1945, the battle of Okinawa ended as LtGen. Geiger raised the American flag. This was the last battle of World War II.

On Aug. 12, 1945, the United States announced that it would accept the Japanese surrender.

NOAH'S NOTE: I was a member of the 1st Marine Division and I was near Gen. Buckner when he was killed.

Buckner is interred in the family plot at Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky.