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Veteran, retired pilot remembered

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    Buckey was a lieutenant colonel when this picture was taken during his assignment to Eglin AFB. FILE PHOTO
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    Ret. Col. Bob Buckey wears full flight gear as a fighter pilot ready to board his Phantom II F-4 Interceptor. FILE PHOTO

Jones County and the United States of America lost a hero with the death of Ret. Col. Robert George Buckey.

The colonel died May 20. He was 82 at the time of his death and is survived by his wife Harriet. His complete obituary can be found on page B5 in this week’s edition.

During the decade he lived in Jones County, Buckey became an active and vital part of the community.

He was a member of Bradley Baptist Church, the Jones County Veterans Committee, American Legion and Jones County Cruisers.

The colonel was a hero and role model in every sense of the word. He was a cancer survivor but refused to be defined by the disease that left its mark on his speech and inability to swallow.

The colonel had the heart of a warrior, and the bravery that carried him through 30 years as an Air Force fighter pilot with 4,500 hours of fighter time undoubtedly helped him in his fight to become cancer free in 2003.

A 2013 magazine article by this reporter chronicled his Air Force career.

Buckey received his wings in 1960 and never looked back. He was at the top of his Advanced Interceptor training class, which earned him the opportunity to be a fighter pilot.

He flew combat air control off the coast of Havana, Cuba, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and was sent to Korea in 1969 in response to the Pueblo Crisis to fly the F-4 Phantom, which he considered his favorite. From Korea he became commander of a detachment in Taiwan, but he continued to volunteer to go to Vietnam.

In September of 1972, he back-doored his way into combat, getting assigned to Udorn, Thailand. The fighters he flew there were armed with 500-pound bombs.

As the war wound down, the restrictions on the pilots increased. The colonel was part of the mission to bomb Hanoi, and the fighters’ job was to protect the B52 bombers. That mission lasted 11 days and had many casualties.

Buckey completed his combat tour with 142 missions in Southeast Asia.

He was assigned to Eglin AFB in Florida as Operations Officer of a tactical fighter then chief of standardization and evaluation, and chief of wing weapons and tactics.

While at Eglin, he was responsible for the development and adoption of integrated combat turn procedures and checklists currently used by all present-day fighters.

His next tour of duty was the Pentagon. He was chief of safety, security and inspections for the Air National Guard and was responsible for the operations and training of all Air National Guard fighters, recce, tanker and airlift forces. He was promoted to colonel while at the Pentagon.

From the Pentagon, Buckey traveled to Naples, Italy, as chief of evaluations for the NATO southern region working with Italian, Turkish and U.S. fighter units. His final assignment in his Air Force career was with the U.S. Central Command at McDill AFB, and during that tour, he spent much of his time in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

He retired in November of1989, but he was not finished with the Air Force. From 1990-95, he worked as a F-16 simulator instructor at McDill, and in 1996, did the same in Turkey under contract with the Hughes Aircraft Corp.

Buckey was a proud veteran but humble when talking about his accomplishments while in the military. He summed up his career in a document he complied for the Air Force upon his retirement.

“It’s been a short, interesting, rewarding, and fun 30 years, accumulating over 4,500 hours fighter time/4,700 hours total time. In addition, the number of takeoffs and landings came out equal.”

It was no surprise to anyone who knew the colonel well to find out he was an organ donor. That means the very last he did on this earth was to try to help someone else.