Frank Henry Buck
was born on June 17, 1947. His home of record is Wenonah, NJ. He attended Chula Vista High School in California. When his family moved to New Jersey, he attended Deptford Township High School.
Buck enlisted in the US Navy and attained the rank of Fireman (FN). Buck was killed in action on December 21, 1967.
Buck was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal w/Bronze Star, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal w/Silver Star and the Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal, 2nd
June 17, 1947-December 21, 1967 FN, Navy Wenonah, NJ
The design on the front of the greeting card is simple. Along with “Season’s Greetings,”
are the insignia of the Army’s 9th
Infantry Division and the crossed rifles and anchor of the Navy’s Mobile Riverine Force. On the inside, “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,”
shares space with, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
The card is dated December 20, 1967, and is addressed to Gram and Grandpa. The photo shows a tall, thin young man standing in the sunlight on the deck of a small craft. His hand is on his hip and his light brown hair glistens in the sunlight. He is wearing Navy fatigues and his hat is tilted back on his head. The handwritten paragraph is clear and concise:
Here are a few lines from Vietnam. The weather here is around 98 degrees in the day and about 85 at night. We’re not doing too much right now. We just go down the river with Vietnamese rice boats and protect them from the communists. If the Viet Cong fire on the rice boats, we fire back. And that’s only happened once. Enclosed is a picture of me. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
“Frankie was a cute tow-headed baby, who would make any parents proud,” says his younger brother, Jim. “But he was a constant challenge for first time parents who were making up the rules as they went along. My parents were married in 1942, and my dad was in many sea battles during World War II. Mom would keep a constant vigil at home waiting for the time when it would be over and they could start a family.”
Finally, in June of 1947, Frankie was born to Frank T. and Flora B. Buck. Jim followed in 1953. Frank made a career of the Navy and retired as a Chief Petty Officer. His duties took him and his family to both coasts before his retirement in 1963. Frankie was sixteen and Jim was ten when the family moved into one of the first homes in the Oak Valley section of Wenonah, NJ, on College Boulevard.
“They were good people,” says Harry Durner, an Oak Valley neighbor. “I had the younger boy in scouts. Frankie was proud as hell when Jim made Eagle Scout.”
School was always a bore to Frank. He tested high in intelligence but found most of the activity dull and uninteresting. “His teachers knew he could do better if he only tried. Frankie was a problem student,” says Jim. “There were many parent-teacher meetings. He had no attention span and just tuned everything out.”
The problems sometimes were not limited to school. “Frankie took on the exterior of a rebel,” Jim continues. “He would often run away thinking he would be better off somewhere else. One time, he thought he struck it rich when he found a job in New York City that paid fifty dollars a week.”
“It wasn’t until Frankie was in his late teens that he realized he could be who he was, and still be liked by his friends and family. When he was working on his 1953 Chevy or when he was home on leave...that was when you saw the real Frankie. He was intelligent, caring and a good brother. He matured later than most but did grow to appreciate life and its pleasures.
Frank had a passion for building model cars when he was in grade school. He also played on a youth basketball team and maintained a love for the sport but never called himself an athlete. He worked hard at whatever he did, as long as he was interested.
By the end of his junior year at Deptford High School, Frank decided to leave school and join the military. In October of 1964, he enlisted in the Navy. “He discussed the Army for some time, but then suddenly joined the Navy,” Jim recalls. “He liked the Navy and we’re sure he was happy with that decision. It helped him grow up.”
Frank went to boot camp in San Diego, California and then to Great Lakes Training Center in Illinois. His first duty assignment was as a fireman at Sangley Point in the Philippines aboard a ‘crash boat’, designed for rescue and salvage operations. Frankie volunteered twice for Vietnam duty. On the second try, he got his wish, and in November of 1967, was assigned to the river assault command in the Mekong Delta.
Jim was fourteen when his brother went to Vietnam. He was saving his money for a drum set and remembers receiving the same Christmas card as his grandparents.
Hi, kid. Enclosed in this Christmas card is your present from me. It’s not much but that’s all the Old Salt has. This card is the only kind of Christmas card we can get. I guess this money will go towards your drum set. Keep on making money and you’ll get it. Well, have a Merry Christmas and New Years.
River Assault Flotilla One was the Navy’s half of a combined effort with the 9th
Infantry Division to deliver and support brigade strength units, with artillery, into remote areas of the complex and fertile Mekong Delta, the rice capital of South Vietnam. It was comprised of over sixty vessels ranging in size from barracks ships that housed 1,100 men each, to assault patrol boats that provided close support and firepower along the riverbanks. Frankie Buck was a fireman aboard an armored troop carrier, ATC 92-10.
On December 21st
, the day after he mailed the Christmas cards, the craft had completed another routine patrol of the My Tho river in Dinh Tuong province of South Vietnam when it was discovered that Frank was missing. A search of the river produced his body two days later. The Navy ruled the death an accidental drowning caused by loss of footing and falling overboard. There were no witnesses and any veteran crewmember will attest to the overwhelming noise of the motors as being the likely cause for no one knowing that Frank had fallen overboard.
Frank and Flora Buck now live in Cooperstown, New York. Photos of both boys adorn the house. Among them, is one of a small blonde boy smelling flowers and another shows his first visit to the Bronx Zoo. His father, a combat veteran of another time, captures the essence of what is so horrible about war.
“In my mind’s eye, I see a smiling, loving little boy who had been catapulted into adulthood without the benefit of his full share of adolescence,” he says. “This, of course, has been the fate of thousands of young men and women during conflicts, past and present. But it in no way lessens the hurt that parents the world over feel at their loss.”
Jim could never forget the emptiness he felt. It’s still there. “I often wonder what my life would be like if Frankie were still alive,” he reflects. “What kind of sibling relationship would we have? What kind of uncle would he have been to my children? And I wonder about his life. How would he have succeeded as a husband and a father? How would my parents lives have been changed? Would Frankie have reached the level of understanding of the world and himself that he was moving towards during the last year of his life?”
Another member of Frankie’s family was profoundly affected by the loss. “Grandpa was a quiet, inward, steadfast man,” Jim remembers. “But he chose to channel his grief in an outward manner.”
Frank Lyle Buck wrote of the loss of his grandson and titled it ‘Grandpa Remembers’.
“Merry Christmas, Grandpa!” said a little boy as he gave a package to him. And the package contained something that the little boy had bought from his own savings. “Thank you.” said Grandpa as he opened the package. And the little boy’s eyes sparkled as the screwdriver with the bright red handle came to view. “And it’s magnetized, too,” said the boy. “When you are working on your machinery and you should drop a nut, you just point the screwdriver at the nut and it jumps right to the screwdriver.” Grandpa said, “That’s great!” But what he thought was how good this little boy was to save his money and buy something for his Grandpa. But things have changed and every time Grandpa uses that screwdriver, his eyes get misty, for the little boy grew up and went away to where Grandpa could not help him. He died in Vietnam.”
Frankie Buck volunteered to put his life on the line as readily as anyone. He believed in what he was doing for the Vietnamese people. His family is enormously proud of the man he was becoming and his devotion to his country. A quiet peace now comes to his brother when he considers Frankie’s life. “Unfortunately, he would not live to celebrate his twenty-first birthday,” Jim says. “But I can conclude that he would have turned out just fine.”
Excerpt from They Were Ours: Gloucester County’s Loss in Vietnam
by John Campbell
Used with permission of author
Sources: John Campbell and NJVVMF.