LTC (R) Alvin “Al” H. Buckelew (88 years. Born: 11 November 1930 at Richmond, VA. Died 25 May 2018 at Gainesville, GA)
Al Buckelew in 1972
After dropping out of high school in Lynchburg, Virginia, Al Buckelew began his Army career in November 1947. Graduating from Parachute and Glider Training at Ft. Benning, GA in February 1948, he first served with the 307th Airborne Medical Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division where he was trained as a surgical technician. When the call went out for Ranger volunteers in 1950, he volunteered and joined, as a combat medical aidman serving in Korea with the 1st Airborne Ranger Infantry Company which was attached to the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.
He voluntarily extended his tour in Korea and served heroically as a combat medic throughout four campaigns. During the May Massacre in 1951, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor and the Purple Heart when he twice exposed himself to enemy automatic weapons fire to rescue two seriously wounded infantrymen. Other awards while in Korea included the Combat Infantryman Badge.
In 1951, he was discharged and decided that only through education would he escape poverty. When he tried to enroll in a Hollywood (California) high school, he was told they didn't want a combat veteran going to school with young girls, so he applied and was admitted to the junior college nearby. He drove an ambulance at night and went to school during the day.
With his AA degree, he reenlisted in the Army in September 1954 and was selected to attend the Infantry Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning. Graduating OCS in January 1956, he was again assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division's 23rd Infantry Regiment, then in Anchorage, Alaska, responsible for search and rescue missions and inland waterway reconnaissance, on and around Mt. McKinley. While there, he particularly enjoyed working with the Eskimo Scouts, the Alaska National Guard unit made up of Eskimos.
In 1961, Buckelew, now a captain, volunteered for Special Forces, graduated Special Forces Officer Course Class 33-G-F3 in 1961, and was assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group. He was selected for assignment to Operation White Star, described as an "unconventional warfare operation" in Laos, under the command of Colonel Arthur D. "Bull" Simons. Returning from Laos, he was selected by Colonel Simons to serve as his group intelligence officer for the 8th Special Forces Group in Panama. After serving in Panama for three years, Captain Buckelew attended the Infantry Advanced Course in 1965. On completion of that course, he was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam form 1966-1967 as the XO Detachment C-5 (Special Operations) and was the Team Leader for Project OAK where he commanded a unilateral intelligence collection operation with operations in South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. His small collection operation was commended by General Joseph McChristian, the MACV J-2, "as one of the most important and valuable activities under my control."
Later Major Buckelew recruited a high-level source in the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN), the central command for North Vietnam's operations in South Vietnam. While in Vietnam, he was awarded his second Combat Infantryman Badge and a Bronze Star for meritorious service. Returning Stateside briefly to attend the Area Intelligence Officer Course at Ft Holibird, MD from 1967 – 1968, he was transferred from Infantry to Military Intelligence and was then assigned to the 500th Military Intelligence Group on detached service to Taiwan with another intelligence agency from 1968 to 1969. Major Buckelew volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam and was assigned as acting battalion commander to the 1st Military Intelligence Battalion, 525th Military Intelligence Group, in I Corps. He received a second Bronze Star for meritorious service and promotion to lieutenant colonel.
His last assignment before retiring was Director of Intelligence, Directorate of Intelligence and Security,, US Army Pacific (USARPAC) in Hawaii. While in Hawaii he also earned his Bachelor's in Political Science and History from Chaminade University in 1971. He was awarded the Legion of Merit on his retirement in March 1972.
Leaving the service did not mean a more leisurely life for Al Buckelew. He earned a Master's in Public Administration in 1973 and Doctor of Philosophy in 1982 from Golden Gate University in San Francisco and then taught graduate international politics and national security affairs at Golden Gate University in San Francisco for 19 years and served concurrently as a National Defense Executive Reserve (NDER) to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and as a guest lecturer on terrorism to that agency's Emergency Management Institute. He also served as an analyst on terrorism and national security to the National Strategy Information Center and to CBS television.
In 1993, Al’s wife of 37 years was killed in Zanskar-Ledakh, India.
In 1996 Al married Helen-Ruth, an Army nurse he met in Vietnam in 1966.
In 1997, Al and Helen Buckelew relocated to Big Canoe, Georgia (near Dahlonega). He joined the adjunct faculty at North Georgia College & State University, The Military College of Georgia in Dahlonega. He taught freshman American Government, and two upper-division political science courses: Terrorism and Political Violence, and Spies and Statecraft. He was also a professor for National Security, Intelligence Studies, and International Relations at the American Military University.
In 2007, Al was inducted into the U.S. Army’s RANGER HALL OF FAME for his distinguished military service during two wars and his continued civilian service to his country. “During his twenty-two years of dedicated service, as an enlisted man and as a commissioned officer, Ranger Buckelew demonstrated Soldierly attributes expected of a Ranger.” Al’s Personal Awards and Decorations are: the Legion of Merit, one Bronze Star for Valor two for Meritorious Service, Purple Heart, two awards of the Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service medal with two bronze stars, Korean Service Medal with four battle stars, Korean Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Laos), Vietnamese Service Medal with a silver battle star, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Vietnamese Honor Medal 1st Class, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Republic of Korea War Service Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge with two stars, Master Parachutist Badge, Glider Badge, Ranger Tab, Special Forces Tab, Republic of Vietnam Parachutist Badge, Republic of China Parachutist Badge, Kingdom of Thailand Border Police Parachutist Badge, Presidential Unit Citation with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Valorous Unit Award, Meritorious Unit Award with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Presidential Unit Citation, Vietnamese Gallantry Cross Unit Citation, and the Vietnamese Civil Actions Unit Citation.
He was preceded in death by his first wife, Nancy, and their son, Mark. He leaves behind his two daughters, Kelley Goldsmith and Shawn, their children and grandchildren, all living in California.
He is survived by his wife,Helen-Ruth von Miller Buckelew of Gainesville, GA and Helen’s children: Charles, David, Abigail and Steven Smyth and their families who all loved and admired him.
Please send memorial contributions to the “U.S. Army Ranger Association, Inc., (USARA)-Ranger Hall of Fame” at: https://ranger.org/Donations or “US Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum” at: https://www.asomf.org/support-the-museum/donations/ .
Interment will be at Arlington National Cemetery on a date to be determined.