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MailTribune.com
  • 'Larger than life'

    Local World War II vet turns 100 next week
  • When Medford resident Jim Buckley sizes up his father, he sees a giant of a man who just happens to stand 5-feet, 6-inches tall.
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  • When Medford resident Jim Buckley sizes up his father, he sees a giant of a man who just happens to stand 5-feet, 6-inches tall.
    "By the eighth grade, I outweighed him, was taller and wore bigger shoes," his son said. "But dad has always been larger than life in my eyes."
    His father is Lewis T. Buckley, a World War II veteran who turns 100 on Dec. 7. The descendent of an Applegate Valley pioneer family is one of the oldest veterans of that conflict in the state.
    The 1931 graduate of Medford Senior High School who would graduate from the University of Portland in 1937, majoring in business administration, Lewis Buckley served in the Army's 6th Port Engineering Battalion in Morocco, Italy and France. He was drafted in 1942 and served four years.
    Although he had been offered an officer's commission, he preferred to serve as an enlisted man, said his son, a Navy veteran. The elder Buckley was discharged as a corporal.
    After retiring from the family farm in the Applegate Valley in the 1970s, he left Jackson County in 1998 to live in Pleasant Hill, where his daughter lives.
    Helen Omann Buckley, his wife of 54 years, died in 2000. Daughter Anna Buckley Schmidt also is deceased.
    The family will celebrate his 100th birthday from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday in the St. Henry's Parish Hall in Dexter, a hamlet about a dozen miles southeast of Eugene. Friends who are unable to attend are invited to send an email message to the family at dncngy@yahoo.com.
    "His generation accomplished things and saw things that are incomprehensible to most of us, yet he has always been very humble about most that he has seen and done," observed his son, a 1968 graduate of Medford Senior High School.
    "He has never talked very much about the war," added his daughter Mary Buckley Mikkelsen, 59, of Pleasant Hill, a 1971 graduate of Medford Senior High School. "He only started talking to me about it in the last 15 years.
    "One of the stories he told me was about landing in Casablanca while (German Gen. Erwin) Rommel was bombing the harbor there," she continued. "I know that he doesn't like to fly."
    To have served in World War II, which ended in 1945, a veteran would have to be in his or her mid-80s at least, albeit many young men did fib about their age to get in early. Lewis Buckley was drafted when he was 29, making him older than most of his fellow soldiers, his son said.
    The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that about 680 of that war's veterans are dying each day because of age-related illnesses. At the end of the war, there were nearly 16 million veterans of that conflict, but the numbers have now dropped to fewer than two million, according to the agency.
    Shortly after he departed for the war, his mother died, but it took several months for the sad news to reach him, Jim Buckley said.
    "He told stories about crossing the Atlantic in a troop ship, which, from his description, was anything but enjoyable," he said.
    While in the Army, he worked with prisoners of war at one point, he said.
    "Dad's capacity to really care about people was best illustrated by the Christmas cards that he received for many years from former POWs who were in his charge," he said. "Some were written in German and were translated by my mother, who was of German ancestry."
    Born Dec. 7, 1912, in Jacksonville, Lewis Buckley is the son of James T. and Emma Ulrich Buckley. His parents settled in the Applegate Valley in 1854, five years before Oregon became a state.
    "Ranching was a way of life, and he never had trouble finding someone to work in the hay fields during the summer," his son said. "Dad was also known to give people a hand up when they found themselves in a pinch. A small cabin on the east end of the ranch was often occupied by unfortunate families that traded work for shelter until they got back on their feet."
    Another measure of his father's character surfaced when Jim Buckley was a junior at St. Mary's High School in Medford in the fall of 1966, before he transferred to Medford Senior High. The football team he played on had made it to the state quarterfinals against Junction City.
    "After having worked all day on the ranch, dad loaded up the car and headed to Medford to pick up three girls from the pep club who had no other way of attending the game," he recalled. "They drove to Junction City, sat through the game in the rain, returned to Medford and dropped each of their passengers to their front porches, and then drove home to the Applegate Valley, arriving home at 4 a.m."
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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