Before he heads to Washington, DC on Saturday, Thomas Buckley just has one question:
“Why is my opinion important?”
Buckley says his stint in World War II was nothing more than a vacation — a way for a self-described hick like himself to spend a week in Switzerland before heading off to Italy.
The honor and accolades — a police escort to Plattsburgh, parade and day spent taking in capital memorials — is unwarranted, he said.
Buckley, 89, first heard about Pearl Harbor as a teenager cruising back from his uncle’s place on Silver Lake. But the Plattsburgh native was too young to be drafted. That had to wait until July 1945, just before Japan quit.
After making his way through a series of stateside camps for training — Shanks, Jackson — the 19-year-old found himself headed to Italy on the SS Blue Ridge Victory. Buckley arrived in a destroyed train station in Naples. The windows and roof were blown out and survivors took refuge in the remnants. From there, he took a troop train to Cividale, a mountain town on the border with Yugoslavia.
“It was pretty bleak,” Buckley recalled. “The railroad tracks were shot to hell and there wasn’t too much left of them.” His assignment was to drive a truck hauling materials used for reconstructive efforts, bridges and roads. Buckley would watch food rations come into Trieste, the northeastern seaport. Gift to the People of Yugoslavia from the People of the United States, read the stamps on the crates. “We were feeding them during the day so they would shoot at us at night,” said Buckley. “I’ve seen it happen.”
One of the biggest supply bases was in Livorno on the west coast. Every two months, troops had to reposition boxes of explosives stored at the munitions depot. If all of the materiel was allowed to gather at one end, the explosives would become unstable and dangerous, said Buckley.
Relations with locals were largely cordial. “Some of them had a rough going,” said Buckley. “You’d see women coming out of the woods carrying baskets of twigs and small pieces of lumber to sell in the square.”
Buckley never saw combat. The only time he heard rifle fire was when a soldier accidentally discharged his weapon during a changing of the guard. One year later, Buckley found himself on a boat back to the United States.
He made a career at the New York Phone Company, got married and had six kids. “I never had any hobbies because my main hobby was working,” said Buckley. “When you have six kids and a wife, and they all want their own shoes, you have to listen.”
Buckley will head to DC on Saturday with three other veterans: John McAlevey, of Jay, Maurice Guerrette and Arthur Niederbuhl, both of Bloomingdale.
“I can’t see why I did anything out of the ordinary,” said Buckley. “I don’t think it’s deserved.”
Reprinted with permission from Sun Community Newspapers