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Buckner, Simon Bolivar, Jr. (1886-1945)


Photograph of Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.

U.S. Army

Buckner was the son of Confederate General Simon S. Buckner Sr., who is remembered in history as the officer to whom U.S. Grant issued his first famous "unconditional surrender" demand. Like George C. Marshall, Buckner was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, but had attended West Point, receiving his commission in 1908. He saw service in the Philippines and on the Mexican border.

Buckner spent most of World War I as a flight instructor, though he was not a member of the Army Air Corps in 1941. He also twice served as a professor of tactics at West Point, where he acquired a reputation for being hard on the cadets. Boatner claims he confiscated aftershave from cadets with the aphorism, "If you're going to be a man, you've got to smell like a man."

In July of 1940, Buckner became the commander of the Alaska Defense Command, a post to which he had personally been assigned by Marshall while still a "very senior" colonel. Concerned with the almost nonexistent defenses of the territory, Buckner worked diligently with very limited resources to build air bases and train 4 Regiment, the only combat infantry unit in the theater. When war broke out, he had just a handful of obsolescent bombers and fighters under his command, but he had functioning air bases at Fairbanks and Anchorage, and work was well under way on airfields at Cold Bay and Umnak.

Following the Japanese raid on Dutch Harbor and seizure of Attu and Kiska, Buckner's command suddenly became more important. He oversaw the landings on Amchitka and Adak, which were unopposed except by the weather, and the assaults that recovered Attu and Kiska and poised his forces to attack Japan from the north in the event the Russians joined the war. Buckner himself was never inclined to overestimate the threat of Japanese invasion through the Aleutians:

They might make it, but it would be their grandchildren who finally got there; and by then they would all be American citizens anyway!

Perret describes him as "a scholar and a staff officer, yet he had the physique of a fullback and voice that threatened glass." He was also an avid hunter. He was known for his quick and acid wit.

Buckner later commanded 10 Army on Okinawa in what some of his Army and Marine subordinates criticized as an unimaginative campaign. Nimitz had overruled Spruance and Turner, who wanted Holland Smith to lead the invasion, because Smith's decision to relieve the commander of 27 Division on Saipan had made him highly unpopular with the Army. Oliver Smith, assistant commander of 1 Marine Division, was particularly critical of Buckner's lack of combat experience and use of artillery. Both Stilwell and MacArthur were critical of Buckner, and it is likely MacArthur would have tried to replace him as commander of 10 Army had he survived the battle of Okinawa.

Buckner was killed by artillery fire while observing the final operations of that battle, becoming the second-highest-ranking American officer killed in the line of duty during World War II (and the highest-ranking in the Pacific.)

Service record

1886-7-16     

Born at Munfordville, Kentucky
1908
2nd Lieutenant     
Graduates from West Point (58th of a class of 108)
1917

Completes flight training
1919 to 1923     

Instructor in tactics, West Point
1925

Graduates from Command and General Staff School
1933 to 1936

Commandant of West Point
1937

Commander, 66 Regiment
1939

Chief of staff, 6 Division
1940-6     
Brigadier general     
Commander in chief, Alaska Defense Command
1943-5-4
Lieutenant general     
Commander, 10 Army
1945-6-18

Killed in action, Okinawa
1954
General
Posthumous promotion

References

Boatner (1996)

Garfield (1965)

Generals.dk (accessed 2007-11-6)

Hastings (2007)

Morison (1949)

Perret (1991)

Taaffe (2011)



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