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Veteran's history of service spanned four branches of military through three wars

Posted: November 4, 2015 - 1:05am
Joseph "Tail Gunner Joe" D.L. Buckland (back, far right) poses with crew members of the B-25 Mitchell bomber he flew with in the Philippines in 1943.  Special
Special
Joseph "Tail Gunner Joe" D.L. Buckland (back, far right) poses with crew members of the B-25 Mitchell bomber he flew with in the Philippines in 1943.

Longtime Martinez resident “Tail Gunner Joe” died Oct. 18, just shy of his 92nd birthday. He was the epitome of “service before self,” as he is the only area resident, perhaps the only in Georgia or even the country, to have fought in three wars: WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, and to have served in four branches of the U.S. military.

A product of the depression and the coal mines of West Virginia, Joseph D. L. Buckland enlisted in the Marine Corps immediately after graduation from high school in May 1942.

Three months later, he was a tail gunner in a B-25 bomber flying more than 50 combat missions in the South Pacific. His exploits earned him five air medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war, Joe returned home, married his hometown sweetheart, Linda Lindsay, and began working with the railroad. Missing the military comradery, Joe joined the Navy, where he was a flight engineer flying PBY’s.

With the continued post war draw down, Joe was discharged from the Navy in 1953. Just a few months later, he “re-upped,” this time with the Air Force as a C-47 crew chief. “They had the latest equipment, the best assignments, and I liked flying,” he said.

Joe wanted to get to Korea before the war was over, but the Air Force denied his request. In true can-do fashion, Joe transferred to the Army and quickly found himself
outside of Seoul, Korea.

After the War, he remained in the Army, serving in numerous duty stations around the country with his wife and two children. In 1966, he began the first of what became two tours in Vietnam.

In 1970, Staff Sergeant Joe Buckland said enough was enough. He retired from active duty, and with family in tow, he moved to the Martinez area. “I never planned to be in all four branches; I just wanted to serve my country.”

Joe’s wife died in 2003, and his son died from cancer in 2004, likely caused by exposure to Agent Orange while he served in Vietnam. Unassuming to a fault, but always with a smile on his face, Joe is survived by his daughter, Melanie, daughter-in-law, Dianne and grandson, Stephen. The family will hold a private funeral in Pennsylvania on Nov. 14.

With help of many others, my father and I took care of Tail Gunner in his later years. A couple of years ago, we took him to a Veterans’ Day Ceremony at Riverwalk. As the band played the respective hymn of each branch of service, those who served in that branch were asked to stand while their hymn was played. Seated in the front row, Tail Gunner proudly stood for all four. The large crowd assumed he was just confused and didn’t know when to sit down, not realizing that what had just occurred will probably never be seen again – the epitome of “service before self,” taken to a new level.

Wright McLeod is a retired U.S Navy officer and a Real Estate attorney in Evans.

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