Private John Carmen Buckhalt

John Buckhalt, 1942

Service Number: 347312

Birth and Early Life:
John Carmen Buckhalt (known to his family as Carmen) was born in Dowling Park, Florida on March 23, 1924. His father, also named John, worked first as a farmer, then as gardener for a large hotel in Summer Haven, and around 1940 moved his family to Miami. Carmen, now in his late teens, found a job as an ice man to help support his family.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
The Pearl Harbor attack inspired Buckhalt and dozens of other Floridians to join the service. The response was so overwhelming that the recruits were organized into a unit called the “McCarthy Platoon” after William J. McCarthy, a popular police chief who was himself a Marine veteran of the Great War. In a scene reminiscent of the recruitment drives of the Civil War, 68 young men enlisted en masse on January 15, 1942 – cheered on by more than two thousand citizens at the Orange Bowl. (1) At Parris Island, they became known simply as the “Miami Platoon,” and fifty of them were sent to the infantry regiments of the First Marine Division.

Wartime Service:
Private Buckhalt joined Company A, First Marines in North Carolina. He traded the name “Carmen” for “Buck” or “Ice Man” in a nod to his pre-war vocation. Although his record wasn’t spotless (he was AOL for six days in April, for which he received solitary confinement on bread and water for a further seventeen days), Buck made friends easily and became proficient with the difficult and deadly Browning Automatic Rifle. (2)

After training in North Carolina and sailing for New Zealand, Buckhalt and his regiment set off for Guadalcanal, where they landed on August 7, 1942. They spent their first weeks on the island hunting the Japanese garrison, ducking bombs, cursing the Navy for leaving them undersupplied, and otherwise trying to survive.

On August 12, Bukhalt’s First Platoon under Lieutenant John Jachym, escorted a group of engineers on a multiple-day survey to scout land for a second airstrip. Reports from an American missionary, backed up by the reliable coastwatcher Martin Clemens, led the Americans to believe that a Japanese attack to the east of Henderson Field was likely; at any rate, they could take out an enemy machine gun position near the village of Tertere.

Date Of Loss:
At 0700 on August 19, 1942, a 60-man combat patrol led by Captain Charles Brush headed off into the jungle. It was composed mostly of Jachym’s platoon, as they were already familiar with the terrain. Buckhalt and his BAR were present, as were George Lundgren and Jack de Wees, also members of the old Miami Platoon.

As they neared the coastal village of Papanggu, Brush decided to break for lunch. One of the Marines mentioned that an orange grove was not far ahead, and with everyone clamoring for fresh fruit, Brush readily agreed to head for the trees. They were halfway to their treat when they ran into a group of some thirty Japanese, who were making a reconnaissance of their own. (3)

Both sides reacted quickly. The Americans laid down a base of fire on the startled enemy, while a squad worked around the flank. The Ice Man dropped behind a coconut log, his BAR pouring rounds into the yelling Japanese. The fight was far from one-sided, however; the Japanese scouts had machine guns with them, and they were up and firing with astonishing speed.

There was a yelp from Buck’s log, and the BAR stopped firing. One of the enemy bullets had found its mark and buried itself in the young man’s leg. George Lundgren was nearby, and called for Buck to come over for first aid. As he crawled towards his friend, John Buckhalt raised his head too far above his cover. A second burst from the enemy gun killed him instantly. (4)

Jack de Wees recalled the moment when he returned to Miami in 1944:

Buck – we called him “the ice man” since he used to be one – was an automatic rifleman. He was down behind a log and was really fighting. Then he got it in the leg, not bad, but he raised up and was hit in the head. He was a right guy, and plenty popular. They got him, but he got plenty of them first. (5)

John Buckhalt’s remains were buried near where he fell. Weeks and months of further campaigning so changed the landscape that Graves Registration teams were unable to locate his body after the island was secured.

Next Of Kin:
Parents, John & Pearl Buckhalt

Status Of Remains:
Buried on Guadalcanal

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
Saint Augustine National Cemetery, Saint Augustine, Florida.
(1) Miami Herald, July 3, 2012. Miami Marines Make History by Daniel Ducassi.
(2) The company’s muster roll shows an unusual number of AOL cases during this month – several of whom were absent at the same time as Buckhalt and received the same sentence. This may have been some organized group effort; one hopes the vacation was worth the brig time.
(3) Zimmerman, Major John L. The Guadalcanal Campaign. The Americans had found an advance party of the Ichiki Detachment, which would become famous for its defeat in the Battle of the Tenaru.
(4) Lundgren’s account has not been seen verbatim; the version here was related on by user mebygrace. In Guadalcanal: Starvation Island author Eric Hammel notes that “one of the Marines had the top of his head blown off as the American patrol recoiled to take stock.” (pg 163) – this was either Buckhalt or PFC Jack Gardner.
(5) The Evening Independent, July 26, 1944. Miami’s Famous Unit Arrives in Atlanta On Way Back Home, pg 3.

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