• thorofare
  • Gloucester
  • July 09, 1931
  • March 27, 1966
  • Army
  • RANK:
  • SSGT
  • KIA
  • South Vietnam


Paul J. Buck was born on July 9, 1931.  His home of record is Thorofare, NJ.

He served in the US Army and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant (SSGT).

Buck was killed in action on March 27, 1966.  He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Oak Leaf Cluster with "V" device.



July 9, 1932 - March 27, 1966
SSG, Army             Thorofare, NJ

In 1948, when the US Navy discovered that seventeen-year-old Paul Buck had falsified his age to enlist at sixteen, he was immediately discharged.  Undaunted, he processed out, received his final papers and went directly across the street to join the Army.

"And then they had to send him to the soda shop to fill up on ice cream sundaes so he could make it to the minimum weight required," says his widow, Joan Buck of Cherry Hill, NJ.  "From then on the military was his whole life."

Paul John Buck was born in Philadelphia on July 9, 1931, and lived in Pine Hill, NJ, before his family moved to Thorofare.  His childhood and home life were less than ideal.  The family became splintered and Paul needed something to grasp firmly.  He left school and found that the military gave him the stability and sense of belonging he missed.

Joan Mulligan Buck was thirteen and living in Thorofare when she became aware of who Paul Buck was.  She had only known that his nickname was "Buck" and that he was six years older than she.  He had been severely wounded in Korea.

"It was in the paper," she says.  "He had a head wound and had to swim across a river through enemy lines to get back to his unit.  There had been several cattle slaughtered and thrown into the river upstream and he had to swim among the carcasses and the blood.  His wound became infected and he contracted encephalitis.  They put a steel plate in his head and he had amnesia for nine months.  He was a long time recovering."

For most, that would have been the end of a promising career.  It was only the beginning of Buck's.  Healed from his wounds, he qualified for service and then re-enlisted.  His assignments for the next few years were stateside at Fort Devens, Massachusetts and Arlington, Virginia.  During a rare visit home, he met and started dating Joan.  "When we first started going out, he liked to roller skate and on the weekends when he came home, we would go to the Clementon rink," she says.  "We went bowling a couple times, too."

Buck and Joan were married in June of 1957, while he was stationed at Fort Devens.  Joan stayed home until he was transferred to the 3rd U.S. Infantry at Fort Meyer, Virginia where she was able to join him in November.

The 3rd U.S. Infantry, "The Old Guard," is the oldest serving active-duty infantry unit in the Army.  It has served our nation since 1784.  Only the most outstanding soldiers are considered for assignment there.  Since World War II, "The Old Guard" has served as the Army's Official Ceremonial Unit and Escort to the President.  They conduct military ceremonies at the White House, the Pentagon and elsewhere in the Washington, DC area.  They maintain a 24-hour vigil at the Tomb of the Unknowns and provide military funeral escorts for burials at Arlington National Cemetery.  The regiment is also home to the U.S. Army Drill Team and the Fife and Drum Corps.  Buck was selected and Joan recalls the impressions he made.

"He was really a military looking person anyway," she says.  "When he was on duty during the holidays especially, it seem all the nice old ladies in the world would come up to him and talk.  They treated him as if he were the son everyone wanted to have.  People would crowd around him and he would go out of his way to help anyone.  He was just a real nice guy."

In 1961, another tour of Korea separated the Bucks again.  He was assigned to the 2nd Battle Group of the 3rd Infantry and received an outstanding report from his commanding officer.  Lt. Colonel Harry Williams wrote:

Sergeant Buck displayed aggressiveness, complete efficiency and dependability while performing his duties in a superior manner.  He is reliable and responsible under all circumstances.  He displays a keen understanding of his fellow soldiers and is well liked by everyone.  He is exacting, meticulous in manner and has a fine military bearing.

"The military was his best choice," Joan says. "Considering the education and home life he had, he did real well.  The Army was the most important thing in his life.  We, as a family, came in second."

Buck's next duty station was Fort Hood, Texas.  It was the first time Joan had ever been away from home for an extended period.  "We had a number of friends there," Joan recalls.  "We would have weekend cookouts and play cards.  We really felt like we had a family."

The Cuban missile crisis in 1962 had the armed services in a high state of readiness.  "They were constantly training," Joan says.  "And when he was home, he was watching the news and spit-shining his boots.  He worked on his equipment all the time.  He would even bring home uniforms of his guys and have me sew the patches and labels on for the ones who didn't have family there.  Buck was like a mother hen to them."

Two sons were born to the Bucks, Joseph in 1960 and Steven in 1963.  The boys did not see much of their father.  "He was always in and out of the country," Joan remembers.   "We were married nine years and I don't think we were actually together for even half of that.  We never had the kind of life where routines could develop."

Buck was transferred to Germany in 1963.  He left the States right after Steven was born.  Joan chose not to go with him.  "The Berlin Wall situation was really bad," she recalls.  "They were evacuating American dependents on short notice, and I just didn't want to put the boys through that.  I just felt it was too dangerous.  It was a scary time."

After spending about a year in Germany, Buck volunteered for duty in Vietnam.  The war had been heating up and Buck felt his place was with his men in combat, not in the relatively easy life of a soldier in Germany.

"I asked him why he volunteered for Vietnam," says his sister, Mary Linderman of Thorofare.  "He said that's where he belonged and that as a proud American, that's where he was going."

He was assigned to B Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, near Bien Hoa.  He was in Vietnam three months when his devotion to duty and to his men cost him his life. 

His Bronze Star citation reads, in part:

On 27 March 1966, Sergeant Buck was serving as squad leader.  His unit was conducting search and destroy operations in a heavily Viet Cong infested jungled area southeast of Ben Cat.  The company had received sporadic sniper fire all day and was pursuing a small group of Viet Cong as it pushed through the area.  At 1500 hours, the 1st platoon came upon a base camp that was defended by well dug in Viet Cong.  The lead squad of the first platoon was brought under heavy small arms and automatic rifle fire.  The ensuing firefight lasted twenty minutes before the Viet Cong were driven off with several casualties.  Sergeant Buck's squad was the point element entering the Viet Cong base camp and immediately came under fire.  Sergeant Buck had been hit in the shoulder in the initial burst of sniper fire, but refused medical aid so as to be able to direct the fire of his squad into the enemy positions.  He then moved back to the squad behind him and quickly briefed that squad leader as to the situation and suggested a quick flanking action to flush the insurgents from their holes.  Then Sergeant Buck, without hesitation and regard for his personal safety, returned to his squad to lay down a base of fire for the maneuver squad.  He further distinguished himself by continually exposing himself to direct the fire of his squad into the Viet Cong positions.  While performing this duty, Sergeant Buck was hit twice by small arms fire and was mortally wounded.

At the time, Joan and the boys were living with her parents on Columbia Avenue in Thorofare.  The news was devastating, yet Joan was able to put the loss in perspective.  In a statement to the press, she said, "He was a dedicated soldier. He died doing what he truly believed in.  He loved his country."

Memorial services were held at Westville Lutheran Church on April 3, 1966.   The next day, Paul Buck was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.  Shortly thereafter, a parade was held in his honor at Fort Dix.  It was during the ceremony that Joan learned how he was killed.  The Bronze Star citation was read aloud.  "That was unbelievable," she now says.  "I don't think I could express the pride I felt...or the sadness."

Over thirty years later, Joan reflects on her loss, our country's noble mission and the sacrifices made by those who served.

"It never goes away," she says. "I've learned to live with it but it seems it's always there.  For a while, it sort of disappeared, but when all the recognition started for the Vietnam veterans, it came back strong.  People started to remember that my husband was killed there."

"There was a real need for us to get involved.  We should be able to help people like that.  I wouldn't want my sons to live under those conditions.  It was just a shame we didn't handle it the way we should have.  We weren't as prepared as we should have been.  Of course, it was a waste, but somebody had to do it.  And Buck felt it was his responsibility to his country and to his fellow soldiers.  It really is that simple."

Excerpt from They Were Ours: Gloucester County's Loss in Vietnam

by John Campbell
Used with permission of the author 

Sources: John Campbell and NJVVMF.


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