Capt. Paul "Buddy" Bucha, USA, Neutralizes Buildup of NVA Troops, Receives Medal of Honor
Capt. Paul "Buddy" Bucha (ret.)
Photograph taken in 2011
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)
Today in Military History: March 18-19, 1968
For today's highlight on military history, we will spotlight a Medal of Honor recipient who exhibited great bravery, and is still among the living.
Paul Bucha was born on August 1, 1943, in Washington, D.C; his parents were of Croatian descent. An all-American swimmer in high school, Bucha was offered athletic scholarships to several universities but turned them down and attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. While at West Point, he was twice an All-American swimmer. In 1965 he graduate 18th in a class of 596. After graduation he earned an MBA at Stanford University in 1967, before beginning his military career at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Having completed his Airborne and Ranger training during the summer break between years at Stanford, he reported to the 101st Airborne Division and became part of "Eagle Thrust" which transferred the Division to Vietnam. Capt. Bucha's unit, D Company – which had been assembled from the headquarters staff and available personnel from the stockades of the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions – distinguished itself under Capt. Bucha's leadership, receiving assignments as a special combat unit from the Delta to the Highlands. [In an interview with Fox News last year, Bucha recalled, "We were called the 'clerks and the jerks.' We were a few smart guys and a lot of badasses … considered the losers of all losers."]
Capt. Paul Bucha (left), in Vietnam, c. 1968
Photograph courtesy of www.cbs.com
Prelude to the Battle
On March 16, 1968, five months shy of his 25th birthday, and following the Tet Offensive, Capt. Bucha's company was dropped by helicopter southwest of Phuoc Vinh in Binh Duong Province. [See map below for the location of Binh Duong Province.] The area was believed to be a North Vietnamese stronghold and Bucha's unit was tasked with seeking out and engaging the enemy forces. For two days Company D encountered light resistance as it cleared North Vietnamese positions.
Binh Duong Province, People's Republic of Vietnam
Battle of Phuoc Vinh
On the afternoon of March 18, the company's lead group of about twelve men stumbled upon a full North Vietnamese Army battalion that had stopped to camp for the night. The lead element came under heavy fire and was pinned down. Bucha crawled towards them and destroyed a North Vietnamese bunker using grenades. He returned to the company perimeter and ordered a withdrawal to a more defensible position.
Throughout the night he encouraged his men, distributed ammunition and directed artillery and helicopter gunship fire. At one point he stood exposed and used flashlights to direct helicopters which were evacuating the wounded and bringing in supplies. The next morning, as the North Vietnamese forces withdrew, he led a party to rescue those soldiers who had been cut off from the rest of the company.
Capt. Bucha's Medal of Honor Citation
[In order to make the citation a bit more readable, I have inserted some punctuation and created paragraphs. I have *NOT* changed any of the wording of the citation.]
Rank: Captain Organization: U.S. Army
Company: Company D, 3d Battalion
Division: 187th Infantry, 3d Brigade, 101st Airborne Division
Born: 1 August 1943, Washington, D.C.
Entered Service At: U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.
Date of Issue: 05/14/1970 Accredited To: New York
Place / Date: Near Phuoc Vinh, Binh Duong Province, Republic of Vietnam, 16-19 March 1968
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Bucha distinguished himself while serving as commanding officer, Company D, on a reconnaissance-in-force mission against enemy forces near Phuoc Vinh.
The company was inserted by helicopter into the suspected enemy stronghold to locate and destroy the enemy. During this period Capt. Bucha aggressively and courageously led his men in the destruction of enemy fortifications and base areas and eliminated scattered resistance impeding the advance of the company. On 18 March while advancing to contact, the lead elements of the company became engaged by the heavy automatic weapon, heavy machine gun, rocket propelled grenade, Claymore mine and small-arms fire of an estimated battalion-size force.
Capt. Bucha, with complete disregard for his safety, moved to the threatened area to direct the defense and ordered reinforcements to the aid of the lead element. Seeing that his men were pinned down by heavy machine gun fire from a concealed bunker located some 40 meters to the front of the positions, Capt. Bucha crawled through the hail of fire to single-handedly destroy the bunker with grenades. During this heroic action Capt. Bucha received a painful shrapnel wound.
Returning to the perimeter, he observed that his unit could not hold its positions and repel the human wave assaults launched by the determined enemy. Capt. Bucha ordered the withdrawal of the unit elements and covered the withdrawal to positions of a company perimeter from which he could direct fire upon the charging enemy. When 1 friendly element retrieving casualties was ambushed and cut off from the perimeter, Capt. Bucha ordered them to feign death and he directed artillery fire around them.
During the night Capt. Bucha moved throughout the position, distributing ammunition, providing encouragement and insuring the integrity of the defense. He directed artillery, helicopter gunship and Air Force gunship fire on the enemy strong points and attacking forces, marking the positions with smoke grenades. Using flashlights in complete view of enemy snipers, he directed the medical evacuation of 3 air-ambulance loads of seriously wounded personnel and the helicopter supply of his company.
At daybreak Capt. Bucha led a rescue party to recover the dead and wounded members of the ambushed element. During the period of intensive combat, Capt. Bucha, by his extraordinary heroism, inspirational example, outstanding leadership and professional competence, led his company in the decimation of a superior enemy force which left 156 dead on the battlefield.
His bravery and gallantry at the risk of his life are in the highest traditions of the military service, Capt. Bucha has reflected great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
Once his tour in Vietnam ended in April 1970, Bucha returned to the United States and taught an accounting class at West Point. It was during this time that he learned he would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in the battle near Phuoc Vinh. The medal was presented to him on May 14, 1970, by President Richard Nixon.
Capt. Paul Bucha, wearing his Medal of Honor, c. 1970-72
Photograph courtesy of https://www.veteransadvantage.com/va/herovet/paul-w-bucha
Footnote #1: Following the end of his military service in 1972, Bucha worked as Chief of Operations in Iran for Ross Perot's company, Electronic Data Systems (EDS). When several EDS employees were detained prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution in a contract dispute, he was involved in the effort to free them. The exploit was recounted in a book, On Wings of Eagles by Ken Follett,
Footnote #2: Bucha then started his own company which found American partners for foreign investors. With a French real estate developer he formed a joint venture which began the development of Port Liberté, New Jersey. He later worked as chairman of the board of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation and was president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
Footnote #3: Bucha is active in political affairs. He is also active in a number of VSOs, including The American Legion and the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. In addition, he has lectured on ethics in business and government at Harvard University, Princeton University, Haverford College, and the United States Military, the United States Air Force, the Merchant Marine and the United States Coast Guard academies. He speaks regularly to soldiers and veterans' groups on a variety of topics and issues.
Footnote #4: In 1997, another of his talents was recognized with the Gold Medallion Award of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Footnote #5: He currently lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut, with his wife Cynthia. They have four children and seven grandchildren.