Death of General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.


The final remnants of resistance on Okinawa were crushed on June 21, and the United States was stunned by the American casualties of approximately 80,000.  For a nation that was becoming weary of war, this was a bitter victory.  One casualty stood out:  Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr, the commander of the Tenth Army, the invasion force.

The product of a May-November marriage, Buckner’s mother was 29 and his father, Simon Bolivar Buckner, a former Confederate Lieutenant General, was 63 when he was born in 1883, like his father he was a West Point graduate, class of 1908.  Much of his career was spent either attending or teaching at Army schools, including a stint as Commandant at West Point.  Prior to being tabbed to command the Tenth Army, Buckner spent most of the War in the Pacific sideshow of Alaska.

On June 18, 1945 Buckner was inspecting an observation post when a Japanese artillery shell exploded in nearby coral driving fragments into his chest.  He died on the operating table.   The General was warned just prior to the artillery barrage to remove his helmet with three stars that might attract enemy fire.  He did so, but by that time the Japanese, ever on the alert, had probably targeted him.


One of three US Lieutenant Generals to die in the War, Buckner’s death underlined the cost of taking Okinawa.

Buckner’s poor generalship doubtless added to the toll.  He specialized in grinding frontal assaults, failing to utilize complete American dominance of the seas for amphibious landings behind the Japanese lines, suggested by subordinates, and his attacks were more WWI than WWII in their use of battering ram application of firepower and costly infantry assaults.  Unimaginative, costly plodding is an accurate assessment of Buckner’s military malpractice on Okinawa.

It was sad for Buckner’s family that he was killed on Okinawa and their grief is to be respected.  It was sadder for his troops that he was not killed at the beginning of the battle rather than at the end.

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  1. An interesting choice for his middle name – Bolivar, for Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of present day Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. There is a statue of Bolivar in Washington, DC.

    Simon Bolivar had no military training yet he led his troops to victory over the Spanish armies. Bolivar was a complete failure as a politician. Seems that failure followed General Buckner.

  2. Buckner was named for his father (thus “Jr.”), who was a career army officer and Confederate general, perhaps best known for surrendering Fort Donelson to U.S. Grant in 1862 – Grant’s first major victory. Buckner Sr. was a better general than that might imply; he had the bad luck to be placed in an indefensible position, up against the best general the Union Army possessed.

    Likewise, so was Buckner Jr. “Poor generalship” is an unfair tag. Criticism *was* made at the time by some naval and Marine officers of the campaign, but it’s hard to see how any other approach could have wiped out Japanese resistance much sooner, given the terrain, fortifications, moonsoon rains, and Japanese 32nd Army (the very best Japanese Army formation the U.S. faced in the entire Pacific War) determination to resist to literally the last man.

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