The Highest Ranking US Officer Killed In Action During World War II

A true fighting general

Grant Piper

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Buckner, right (Public domain)

It is unsurprising that the United States’ highest ranking officer to fall by enemy fire in World War II was killed in the Pacific. The War In the Pacific was violence distilled down to its purest form and stuffed into impossibly small spaces. The tiny islands of the Pacific were far from the sweeping plains of France and the open deserts of North Africa. Flag officers did not have the luxury of hanging back from the front. In some of these battles, everywhere was the front.

For example, when President-Elect Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Iwo Jima in December of 1952, he saw the infamous island for the first time. With rows of Marine graves, not yet a decade old, sitting under the forlorn peak of Mount Suribachi, the soon-to-be president remarked to his aides that he could not imagine fighting taking place in such a small area. (Roughly 130,000 combat troops were packed into an area measuring just 8 square miles.) But that is how the Pacific War was fought.

It was tight conditions and fierce fighting that led to the gallant death of Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. in 1945.

Commanding In Alaska

Planning for the Aleutian Island campaign (Public domain)

General Buckner was a fighting general. You had to be in order to climb the ladder in the grueling Pacific War. The general started his ascension while the head of the Alaska Defense Command. Under normal conditions, such a post could be a career killer. However, Buckner ended up overseeing a series of remote and brutal battles in the Aleutian Islands.

Before the outbreak of World War II, the United States thought that Alaska’s remoteness and status as an American sovereign territory could make it a target for a Japanese attack. But the territory was so large and spread out it was hard to pinpoint exactly when or where the Japanese could make their move. General Buckner was promoted to Major General in the summer of 1941 and was tasked with overseeing the final preparations for the defense of Alaska.

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Grant Piper

Professional writer. Amateur historian. Husband, father, Christian.