Eugene Buckley was born in 1932 in Mankato, Minnesota near Standard Oil Company where his father worked. With few jobs available in his hometown and with a little help from the local recruiter, Eugene Buckley enlisted into the Army. Eugene Buckley recalled that while completing amphibious training in Tokyo, it wouldn’t be long before the war would start which was on his birthday! Recently deployed from Japan, Eugene Buckley was with the US Eighth Army that arrived just days after the North crossed the 38th parallel. Refusing to surrender, his platoon climbed out of a ravine when he was shot twice (shot 4 times total) with one penetrating through his dog tags that had fallen under his arm while he was attempting to save another soldier’s life. Critically wounded, he was moved to Japan and Hawaii before returning to the states where he spent the next 18 months in recovery.
Dog Tags Saved Eugene Buckley
Refusing to surrender while trapped in a ravine, Eugene Buckley and another soldier (O'Donnell) were climbing out of the ravine when they noticed a soldier who had been shot in the neck. Trying to save his life, Eugene Buckley was shot once in the shoulder and another shot went through his dog tags under his arm. He was lying on the ground trying to help another soldier who wouldn't make it out alive.
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Eugene Buckley was trying to make it back to the front line after escaping from the ravine when he and O'Donnell got on the back of a family ox cart and spent most of the day traveling. Not having eaten in 4 or 5 days, Eugene Buckley broke into a large container of applesauce and ate the whole thing. He said it wasn't long after that when they were back in the same situation of extreme hungry again.
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Returning to the Front Line: Casualties and Hunger
The interviewer asked what happened to the rest of the platoon that was left behind, and Eugene Buckley replied that everyone had been massacred except for himself, O'Donnell, and another soldier. Eugene Buckley had dysentery at the time and he got back so the infirmary gave him a lollipop shaped pill that he consumed to help with the problem. He said when he went into the war, he was 165 pounds, but when he was taken for his wounds, he was only 95 pounds, practically a skeleton.
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I’m Eugene Buckley. I was born in North Mankato in 1932. And I lived in North Mankato all my life. So after Korea that was kinda boring *laughs*
Q: So tell me about your family. What did your parents do or?
My dad worked for a standard oil company. He had a big office there in Mankato. And my mother raised five children and worked at the drug store in North Mankato after we got all in school. Well that’s about it unless you have any questions.
Q: So when did you enter the military? Where you enlisted or drafted?
I enlisted on September 9, 1949.
Q: Why did you choose to go into the military at that time?
I don’t know. I just thought it be a good idea. *chuckles* There wasn’t very many jobs around and I always kinda had a desire to be in the military and my next door neighbor was a uh uh what do they call them? Did enlisting?
Q: A recruiter?
A RECRUITER! That’s the word I’m lookin for. And that’s what my plan was the whole time anyways so
Q: And why did you choose the army?
I don’t know. I remember the recruiter was an army recruiter. So I suppose I that influenced. That’s the only reason I can think of. My brother was in the Air Force. We didn’t want to make any more confrontation if possible so that’s why. I think it was mostly because the recruiter lived next door and I spent a lot of time with him. Wasn’t a good judgement I guess. By that time it was too late.
Q: So tell me about your basic training. Where did you do it and what was the transition like?
I did my basic training in Fort Riley, Kansas. That was kinda fun for me. I got a real big bang out of it. It wasn’t really uh- Ya know most guys hate basic training, I just got a big kick out of it. And after basic training they sent us to Japan and I was there for must have been about six months or so. And Korea started and knew where we went. No it wasn’t Korea, what was it? It was 27 days or something like that before I got hit the last time.
Q: So can you tell me about when you were in Japan in the war and you first got the order to go to Korea, what was that like?
Well, he just told us to put all our personal goods in our footlocker and scratch our name in the top, lock it up, and away we went. It took us… it’s hard to remember just how long it took, just a few days to get to Korea when we were right in the middle of it right away. Cause you know we had to be in Japan at the time so there was 20 North Korean divisions and we had one. So they ran us all the way down to Pusan and that’s where I got it down by Pusan.
Q: When and where did you arrive in Korea?
Pusan, probably a week and a half after the war started. I don’t remember the date. When you are sixty years old, you forget a lot of stuff.
Q: Can you tell me when you arrive at Pusan, where did you go from there? What was-what did you experience?
Uh we just landed at Pusan and we went right up to Techong and that was where the fighting was. That’s what happened there. There wasn’t any particular dead spot where you didn’t have anything to do so then I think it was 27 days before I got hit so I got hit, I was a machine gunner so I was laying down on my belly and I got shot right across the back. And that’s where I was paralyzed. So that was only I think it was 37 days or something like that that I was there. Couple years in the hospital after that and a long time on crutches. And it got to where I could walk without crutches and stuff and I worked for 30 years for Mico Incorporated here in town. I got to walk so I could get around pretty good. Other than that, I guess you’re gonna have to ask questions.
Q: So tell me more about that first month of the war. What battles were you in?
It wasn’t any particular battles at that time. The war had just started and of course the Koreans had a lot more men than we did and they just ran us all over and where I ended up was down by Pusan and that’s where I got shot the last time. I think it was about 27 days or something like that by the time I got there to the time I was out of there again.
Q: Were you a part of creating the Pusan perimeter?
Q: Can you tell me about that?
Well, it’s just there were so many North Koreans they drove us back. They just ran around the Pusan perimeter and I forget the name of the river, just north of Pusan and we were along that river when I got shot. Mayson I think it was called. We were looking for things to float on and ya know they were driving us back so fast so when you looked back and all you see was water, you started wondering what you were going to float on. But ended up, I guess things started getting better for us. They got more troops over there and worked out.
Q: Are there any particular stories that stand out to you?
Just being chased all over Korea. And there were things I don’t want to talk about. There was about 30 of us that were in a trap at the big ravine. We all ran down to the bottom of the ravine and there was a second lieutenant down there and he said, “We’re gonna surrender.” Me and a kid named O’donald said that we weren’t gonna surrender so he and I took off over this big bank and we got over the top of that and we just got going and there was some guy laying dead. He’d been shot through the throat and was bleeding and we stopped to try and help him but there was nothing we could do. When I got shot under my arm I think. I got shot above my shoulder and that one stuck. Gimme that picture Vicky. That one stuck in my shoulder and the other one went through my dog tags. That was after things quieted down, there was a newscaster, one of the news in, I forget, one of the big outfits and he took a picture of it.
Q: So it went through your dog tags.
Right here. I was like this *demonstrates position* and they got my shoulder while I was trying to help that guy that got shot to the neck. It just went under my arm.
Q: Are there any other stories that you can share as well?
It was raining and there was a Korean lady in our house there was a little door, kinda like, a storage bin. It was raining and she offered the two of us, sleep over night, and the next morning we were heading down the road and this lady gave us 2 big great tomatoes and big black ball of rice and at that time I couldn’t stand rice but that tomato sure was good.
Q: So that was when the two of you were running together?
Yeah. It was that day we got back to our lines. There was this family that had everything they owned on this ox cart and we sat on the back of that and rolled on it most of the day and we could look down the valley ahead of us and there was a jeep with a guy sitting in it and we got down there and I remember we got to the jeep and there was a big can of applesauce. Of course ya hadn’t had anything to eat in four or five days so we broke into the applesauce and that didn’t do us any good either after a while. Then we got back to our lines that way.
Q: What happened to the rest of the group that you left behind? Did they surrender?
Killed. There was just the two of us left that I know of. Actually there was three and he got wounded on the way back. That was out of our platoon. Pretty well got massacred.
Q: So what happened when you rejoined the lines?
Well I had dysentery by that time. They gave me some pills; they were about this big around. Like candy wafers I used to get on a stick. They gave us some of those to stop the diarrhea. And I don’t really remember what happened, immediately, but we were back on the lines shortly, and all this took place within that month. I weighed 165 pounds when I went to Korea, and when I got back to the hospital I weighed 95. I was practically a skeleton.
Can you tell me about the process once you were evacuated, to the hospital, then what did you do from there?
First we were, when I got hit, two little Koreans, one put me on what they call an A frame, and they crawled on our back when they put me onto that but my legs were too long, So the other one ran behind me and took my legs when they took me down to the H station. When they patched up the holes on my back, so and it punctured my lungs and stuff, and then they got that all taken care of and then they, there was a blank spot there, I don’t know. They put me on a, I think they call it a liberty ship and took me to Japan. First they put me on a helicopter., and I don’t know if they took me to the ship of if they took me to the ship, you know, I was in and out of it. And, I was in Japan for three weeks, and then they sent me to the Philippines, but I was supposed to go to the states but they sent me to the Philippines. And they didn’t think I’d make it so they put me in a Hospital in Hawaii, and I got stronger again, but they put me on a plane and I was supposed to come up to the Great Lakes, well I got to California and they didn’t think I’d make it so they dropped me off at Fitzsimons in Colorado, and that’s where I spent most of my time.
So then from there where did you go?
From there I went to the VA hospital in Chicago, I don’t know why they did that but I stayed there for a while, and then they sent me home. I never did go to the VA in Minneapolis. I could walk with crutches, and pretty quickly I got rid of the crutches, then I really worked for 30 years, and I didn’t have to have crutches or anything to walk.
So how many months was it from the time of the injury to the time you got home?
Well I think it was about a year, I don’t remember exactly, (someone tells him 18 months in the background) 18 months.
So what was it like when you got home?
Different, these guys that I ran around with were all children, and it was altogether different, you know, all the guys that you knew were all pretty changed. I got married, I had three kids, and she decided that she liked Colorado better so she left me, and talked the kids into it. Shortly after that, I married Peggy, and we’ve been together forty something years. Should’ve married her first. I tell everybody the other one was practice.
So what did you do for work?
I worked for Minnesota automotive, have you heard of it? MICO incorporated is another name for it. The building is right across from the vocational school in Northwick, what used to be a vocational school. I worked for them for thirty years.
So before you went to Korea, what did you know about Korea?
Nothing. I didn’t know it existed. Although one night, I was in Japan at the time, it was Sunday, June 25, on my birthday, when the war started. We were out by Tokyo taking amphibious training and I told the guy, you know there are always two of you together, “we’ll be over there in a week”. And we were. Maybe seven or eight days longer, but it seemed like it was just a week. 37 days before I got hit the last time, I think, that’s not important, I got hit in the shoulder one day, I got a leg another day, but it wasn’t serious enough to stop you, so, they but a bandage on it and sent you back, it’s hard for an old man to remember that far back. Especially when you’ve tried to forget for sixty years.
How did it feel when you were on the front lines and witnessing everything?
You can’t explain it. Well it’s, I think if I’d have been there much longer I would have gone crazy. That I can tell you. You know we were on the line for 37 days and we didn’t get off the line. You didn’t care if you got shot or not, in fact I remember when I got hit in the spine I knew I was paralyzed, and I was just glad to get out of there. It’s a funny-dumb feeling but that’s the way I felt. They took me down, you know in Korea, they have these grass shacks, and they had the aid station set up in there, in one of those. Every time a shell would go off, the dirt would shake out of that thatch roof. When they put me on, I think that’s when they put me on a helicopter and took me to the ship. You’re conscious and you’re unconscious, so, well I think the sequence there maybe screwed up, I don’t remember, you would wake up and then you would go back to sleep. Then I spent all three weeks in Japan in a hospital, and then three weeks in the Philippines or in Hawaii. Then they put me on a plane and I got back to Fitzsimons, and I was there for probably eighteen months or something like that. Then they sent me to the veteran’s hospital over in Chicago, I wasn’t there very long. Just long enough to almost get in trouble.
What does that mean?
There was a man who was a quadriplegic and eh was there on the gurney, and he had nice Oldsmobile convertible and he would let you have, drive, his convertible and go do what you wanted if you would buy him some booze and bring it back. Of course he wasn’t supposed to have any of that. He kept it in a hot water bottle, and if you wanted the car that’s all you had to do. There was a blind guy from the second world war, he hadn’t been out of the hospital until we got there, got the guy’s Oldsmobile, and took him along, and he got a big boot out of that.
So where were you when the war ended?
Fitzsimons’s army hospital, no, I was at home. Yeah, I was at home.
How did you hear the news?
On the radio. Well the Korean war had been going on so long, it really wasn’t news anymore. But, when we listened to the news, it was an armistice type deal, it really isn’t settled yet.
So what is Korea to you now?
Nothing. I wouldn’t want to go back. Even for a visit. Well that’s a little hash, I’m sure if the conditions were right I might go back. But I really don’t have any desire to go back.
How did your wartime experiences affect the rest of your life?
Well, I spent a lot of time on crutches and wheelchairs, although I did work for thirty years without crutches. I don’t know, I think I wasn’t there for long enough for it to really affect me, mentally, I could feel it start to, you know, you could almost go crazy if you stayed there for too long. I was actually happy when I got hit, of all things to be.
Is there a message or a word of wisdom that you could give or pass on to younger generations?
Not really, except, do what you think is right. Do what you want to do, and if it blows up in your face it blows up in your face. But, you know, you can’t go through life being afraid of everything. Of course when I went in the army, there wasn’t a war or anything, so it was pretty good time, I had a lot of fun. Then we went to Japan, and we did a lot of sightseeing, I just wish it would have lasted a little longer.
Is there anything else I haven’t asked that you want to share?
Just do what you think is right, you may be wrong and you end up in a wheelchair, but it’s still your life, do what you think is right, and it all turns out pretty good.