Oral History Interview with
Associate of Harry S. Truman in World War I as an artillery officer in the 35th Division and friend of his since that time.
March 10, 1971
by J. R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened June, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
March 10, 1971
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Bucklew, to start would you mind giving me a little résumé of your background; when and where you were born, and your education, and what jobs you had before you first went into military service?
BUCKLEW: Yes, I'd be very happy to do that; I have many pleasant recollections, I'll mention some of them. I was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, March 31, 1880. At two years of age my parents moved to St. Louis where I attended local schools. In 1896 I went to Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, from St. Louis, and was there when the Spanish American War was declared.
I was in the cadet corps. It happened that the commandant had been a lieutenant in the Confederate Army. The students formed a group to go into the service. I was just 18, and of course had to have
my parent's consent to go into the service. They wouldn't allow me to, so I returned home to St. Louis.
We had several sessions trying to get their permission. At last my father told me if I would go into the Regular Army where the officers would know how to take care of the men, they'd give their permission.
So, I went down to Jefferson Barracks and enlisted in the 3rd United States Cavalry. Of course, that's when the Cavalry rode horses.
FUCHS: How long was such an enlistment for in those days?
BUCKLEW: Oh, that was for the war.
FUCHS: For the war, duration.
BUCKLEW: Just for the war.
At last, then, having had it put to me that way, I enlisted. I was trained first to ride bareback. Then there were a number of men in the troop, B Troop of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry, that were old Indian fighters.
In the Cuban campaign, the troops were sent to
Tampa, Florida, the horses and young recruits were left there, the Cavalry was dismounted in Cuba. And then on return, the troops were quarantined at Montauk Point, Long Island. There were three regiments in the Cavalry brigade. One, the 3rd Cavalry, as I mentioned, the other one the Teddy Roosevelt Roughriders, and the other was the 10th United States Cavalry, the latter colored troops; and we got along fine, not friction that they're having these days.
And after quarantine at Montauk Point, Long Island, which -- I better go back a little on this. When the brigade was assembled, the general in command was General Joe Wheeler, the famous Confederate Cavalry officer. It probably was a gesture to create consolidation of the North and South in this combined effort which was a very good step.
FUCHS: Did your unit participate in any of the action in Cuba?
BUCKLEW: Yes, San Juan Hill. I was a recruit and I had to stay with the horses.
Then from Montauk Point, we went to Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont. Then we were to be broken up into squadrons, at each station, one at Fort Ethan Allen, one at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri and one at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. We were destined for Fort Sheridan, with a stopover first in Philadelphia for the Peace Jubilee. My troop of black horses was selected as escorts for the grand marshal in the parade, reviewed by President McKinley.
We were then sent to Augusta, Georgia, where they were demobilizing the volunteer troops of the National Guard. We were stationed at Waycross Junction between the city of Augusta and the camp where the National Guard were. Between their camp and Augusta was the city reservoir, and then a little farther in towards the city, there was a golf course. There had been a fight in an Augusta saloon one night and a man was killed. The men involved belonged to the 14th Minnesota Infantry, their comrade was in jail.
FUCHS: Was that a volunteer regiment?
BUCKLEW: Yes, a National Guard volunteer regiment. The
word got out to the volunteer's camp. They assembled a mob to go to town to release their man from jail.
FUCHS: What were they going to do then?
BUCKLEW: I don't know, except that was the purpose so they said, to release their man from jail.
It was about nine something in the morning, when the trumpeter sounded to horse, we had to get out and mounted very quickly. We were told that this group of soldiers were going to town, and we could see them crossing on the ridge of the reservoir. So the captain wheeled us out promptly and we went through the Georgia mud after a rain, and were pretty well plastered, even our faces.
So, we arrived at the far end of the golf course as the men were approaching, and we dropped into single file, circled the crowd, gradually closing in on them until they were pretty well confined, when the captain stepped out with the first sergeant to confer, and called for a leader. A red-headed corporal stepped out, he had a rifle in his hand, and what they were discussing I don't know. But the sergeant had his saber drawn. He suddenly threw
the saber at this man, knocked him down, and then he got down and helped him up. And they conversed a little bit. And this man, we were told, with several others, were court-martialed and the man given a dishonorable discharge.
From there, we went to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois. That was in the early part of the winter of '98, and this was to be our home station. While there we had another call to break out our equipment and get ready for loading on trains to go to Minnesota. The word that got around was that the infantry at Fort Snelling could not handle the situation that had developed with the Indians, and that we were in reserve and had to go there.
FUCHS: You say this was in the winter of '98, do you mean '98-99 or...
BUCKLEW: Yes. It was in '98-99, that so far...
FUCHS: In other words, it was late in 1898 that this started?
BUCKLEW: Or it might have been in January. I don't recall just the month, but it was about that time. I believe that was the latest friction with the
troops and Indians.
FUCHS: So your unit was transferred to Snelling?
BUCKLEW: No, they called it off, we were the reserve. They had settled it. So, I missed being an Indian fighter.
Well, the Adjutant General issued an order, General Order Number 40, authorizing discharge of all those men who had enlisted for the duration of the Spanish war, and I happened to be one of them. So, I took my discharge in February of '99 and went to my home in St. Louis.
I had a very close friend in the troop. He was a son of a retired major of infantry. He was living at Ft. Leavenworth, the name was Townsend. And he was to be out at the same time I was, but his discharge was delayed and he promised to come down and visit me in St. Louis for a day or two before going home.
He arrived. The next day in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat was an article mentioning that the 38th United States Volunteer Infantry was being organized for expedition to the Philippines.
Well, we knew that the 3rd Cavalry wasn't going to go anywhere, that's one reason we wanted to get
out. And here was a chance for service in a foreign country. We read the article about it being organized down at Jefferson Barracks. We thought we'd like to go down and find out about it.
We went down, there were two men in the office, we were early birds. A first lieutenant of Cavalry walked in and the conversation opened up, he asking us if we'd been in the service, and who our officers were, and this lieutenant then said, "My name is Willard A. Holbrook and I'm a Regular Army Cavalry officer, but I have a temporary commission as a major of Infantry. We're organizing this regiment for the Philippines and we'd like to have men in it who have been in the service."
After more conversation and inquiring of each of us, Townsend and myself, who our officers were, he told Townsend that he would appoint him acting sergeant major -- he would need a sergeant major; try out and see how he'd prove himself. And he turned to me and said, "Well, I'll make you a corporal. We need some clerks here at headquarters while we're organizing."
So, we signed up. So the troops came in (all volunteers) from various places; one company from
Indiana, another one from Kansas, and another one from Texas. When the regiment was filled, the Adjutant just made out a list of we clerks, and marked what company we'd be assigned to, and I was sent to H Company, 38th United States Volunteers. They were all from Texas except the second lieutenant. So I know Texans. We became well-acquainted and continued as very good friends. Townsend was given a permanent appointment as sergeant major, and I was only a corporal, but I was the senior corporal in the outfit. That didn't get me anywhere with those Texans.
We went to San Francisco, got on the transport, and Townsend, because of his job and grade, was entitled to share a cabin. Well, we were close friends and he, in order to get me there with him, had me detailed. They requested the detail from the company that I be sent up for some ship work. I lasted two days because the sergeant in my outfit saw me in this cabin. The captain of those Texans requested that this sergeant be appointed instead of me. So, I went back below deck.
FUCHS: He pulled his grade?
BUCKLEW: Yes. We went on to the Islands and I have pictures taken all through, many of these incidents. About the week before we reached Manila there was a typhoon and one of the transports was lost. I don't remember which it was, I think we had a Sheridan with us, but I don't think that was the transport that was lost. And landing in Manila we camped on the Luneta, that's the beach around the bay. At the Luneta, at this area where we stayed, there was a bandstand. The troops were assembling because the Navy had occupied Manila after the Cavite defeat of the Spaniards and were waiting for the troops to arrive.
After enough of the troops arrived, two expeditions were arranged, one to go north and one to go south. I was in the one that went south. We moved from the Luneta in Manila down to Cavite, out to Maricaban, Santa Tomas, Lipa and Batangas, all that being in Batangas Province. We operated there for many months, and in two of these places we released Spanish prisoners that the insurrectos had been holding. And because the insurgents had proceeded to do what damage they could to the Spaniards, before we got there, the Spaniards
were soldiers stationed out through the Islands. There were a number of cases of that kind of liberated Spanish soldiers.
[Emilio] Aguinaldo proceeded to operate against the American troops. He had contacted [Admiral George] Dewey before they came to the Philippines, and Dewey brought Aguinaldo, who later became leader of the Filipinos insurrection.
He expected the country to be turned over to him; of course it wasn't. And so then he created his insurrection, and that insurrection continued on up to the -- I think the last of them was with the Moros maybe ten years afterwards. The Moros held out. It was all that type of fighting that we had.
After getting things settled in southern Luzon, our outfit was ordered to the Island of Panay which has not been taken over yet. Part of our expedition landed on the east coast, part on the west coast, then we converged and met in Iloilo, and operated through the Island of Panay. We're getting along into the spring of 1901, and Panay Island had been pretty well pacified, except the Moros and we left for the United States in June 1901.
When I returned, I didn't go back to Ames, Iowa, I wanted to learn the lumber manufacturing business. I went down below Shreveport, Louisiana, worked at a sawmill. And I was given a partner to work with, a middle-aged Negro. We'd cart the lumber around to the stacks where it would go. And I will always remember this man very, very kindly. He was considerate, he didn't want to hurt my feelings because he knew more than I did about this. So, one day he said, "Mr. Roy, I always learn something new." I appreciated that. And then there were pleasant details of other incidents that I won't go into.
I came back to headquarters of the company in St. Louis in 1902, but I was still suffering with malaria. I had had the chills and fever regularly ever since I came back from the Islands, that was 1901, recovering in 1903.
FUCHS: You got it in the Philippines?
FUCHS: Not in Cuba.
BUCKLEW: No, no, in the Philippines.
All the medicine that I had when I was in the Philippine service was quinine and compound cathartic, that was the extent of our medicine. They had contract doctors, they're not the regular service doctors, and they all didn't keep the records and -- well, there were various little things that I won't go into.
But getting back to the lumber business. I then traveled out of St. Louis for the firm selling lumber wholesale to lumber yards and industries. Then they opened a suboffice in Kansas City handled by the son of the president of the company that I had been working with. I was sales manager in Kansas City and was living there until 1913, when I received an appointment as a special agent to South and Central America, Department of Commerce, on lumber and wood products. So I was there at that time. This was a special project -- I went back to the firm I had been with before.
FUCHS: How did you happen to get that appointment?