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).
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.
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
, 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
(June 1942), Battle of Attu (Operation Landcrab, May 1943), and "invasion" of Kiska (August, 1943) (see Aleutian Islands campaign
Battle of Okinawa
In July, 1944, Buckner was sent to Hawaii to organize the Tenth Army, and prepare for the Battle of Taiwan, later to be changed to the Battle of Okinawa, the largest sea-land-air battle in history, which also turned out to be slow and bloody. 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 six Japanese 47mm shells and killed instantly. He was succeeded in command by General Roy Geiger. Total American deaths for the battle were 12,500.
Buckner is interred in the family plot at Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Named in honor of Buckner:
- Fort Buckner, an Army sub-post of the Marine Corps' Camp Foster on Okinawa. The post is home to the 58th Signal Battalion and includes a small memorial to its namesake.
- West Point's Camp Buckner, where yearlings (incoming sophomores) go through Cadet Field Training (CFT).
- Buckner Gymnasium at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, a post which the general established during the war.
- Sledge, Eugene B. (1990). With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19506-714-2.
- "Buck's Battle". Time Magazine. Retrieved on 2008-08-31.