Buchta gets second chance at Hero Flight

Next month three Custer County World War II veterans will be part of the Hero Flight team from heading to Washington, D.C. For the next three weeks we will profile each of those veterans. Back in June 2007, Custer County became the first in the state of Nebraska to organize a Hero Flight to take these World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the World War II Memorial. Dick Pierce, of Miller, was on that trip as an escort for his father. Seeing the emotion come out in these men, and hearing them share their stories, made Dick aware of the importance of sharing this experience with other veterans and their families. So he decided to do something about it. Shortly after returning home, Dick began organizing a similar Hero Flight trip for veterans of Buffalo County. This will be the third year a Buffalo County group has made that voyage, and this time it was opened up to Custer County vets as well. Glen Buchta jumped on the opportunity to be able to go. “I really wanted to go on the trip the first time, but I had a granddaughter getting married that same weekend so I couldn’t go,” says Glen. This time there were no conflicts, and Glen and his wife Opal are planning to be on the flight leaving Omaha June 9. It will, no doubt, be an emotional journey. By the time Glen entered the University of Nebraska, two of his high school classmates had already lost their lives in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Several of his friends did not return for the second semester. Hilbert “Glen” Buchta was born and raised in Polk County. He attended school in a one-room school house and high school at Silver Creek, where he graduated with the class of 1941, at the tender age of 16. “I tried to enlist in the Army Air Force before my 18th birthday, but they had changed the rules,” Buchta recalls. “I finished the second semester and helped my Dad on the farm until I was drafted in August 1943.” There were 12 young men from Polk County who went to Fort Crook in Omaha together Aug. 5, 1943. Glen remembers there being a big allotment for the Navy that day, and when asked if he wanted Army, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard - he chose the Army. “The Army and Navy fellows had a short conference and said that since I had a year of Army ROTC, I could go in the Army,” he says. “The fellow behind me said Army and they said ‘OK, you’re in the Navy’.” Of the 12 from Polk County, three went to the Army, three in the Navy, two in the Marines, two in the Coast Guard, and two were medically unqualified. Glen reported for active duty Aug. 27, and went to Fort Leavenworth. There were about 50 men in his barracks, and of those four were called in for color-blind tests and asked if they wanted in the Air Force. “For someone who was drafted, I had lots of choices,” Glen laughs. From Fort Leavenworth, he was sent to Shepherd Field, Texas, for four weeks of basic training. He says the day his group left he was sent to the hospital because his chest x-ray had been lost. He spent another four weeks at Shepherd Field. His next stop was Centenary College in Shreveport, La., with a group of about 100 men. He was in that college five months before going to flight training. He then went to San Antonio, Texas for classification for pilot, navigator or bombardier training. “One day, 350 or so of us were marched to the Post Theater where they read us a memo stating that we were being relieved from further training for the ‘convenience of the government’. That was a let down,” says Glen. The day after Easter, 1944, more than 350 men, including Buchta, were sent to Eagle Pass, Texas. It was a small base and no one there was expecting the group. He says it took the Army 19 days to correct their error and sent the group to Amarillo, Texas for airplane and engine mechanics school for B-17 aircraft. The Army Air Force was in the process of replacing the B-17s with the larger B-29s. Glen says that all through his training changes were being made for the difference in aircraft. Glen was part of a group that was sent to a Douglass Aircraft in Santa Monica, Calif., for five weeks. He recalls the last A-20 aircraft was manufactured at the plant while he was there. He then went to Turner Field at Albany, Ga. “We were crossing Texas on the fourth Thursday of November,” remembers Glen. “Since that was the day Texas observed Thanksgiving, we got some turkey for dinner. Georgia observed the last Thursday as Thanksgiving, so we got some turkey again!” While at Turner Field he got his first three-day pass and was able to attend his sister’s wedding at Fort Benning, Ga. After more that 16 months in the service and touring the U.S., Glen got a furlough and was home for New Year’s. Turner Field was a B-25 advance training base for pilots. In the spring of 1945, with the war over in Europe, many Air Force personnel were being sent to the Pacific. Glen was on shipping orders, but was delayed because he was told he needed a series of shots to go to a foreign country. He ended up at a B-24 factory school in Michigan for another five weeks. At the end of that five weeks, it was off to Pratt, Kan. to a B-29 base for a couple of months. After a stop in Boise, Idaho for a few months, he was sent to Portland, Ore. and was part of the alert crew. There he met and serviced transient military aircraft. Glen was discharged at Fort Lewis, Wash., Mar. 8, 1946. He returned to the University of Nebraska that summer. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in agricultural engineering in January 1949. Right out of college he went to work for the USDA Soil Conservation Service, and was married to Opal in May. Though his military training never took him outside the United States during the war, it did prepare him for the international travel he would do afterwards. In 1967 and 1968, Glen went to Vietnam for 20 months on loan to the Agency for International Development as an irrigation advisor. He got to come home for three weeks every four or five months. His career also took him to Tunisia, where he worked on a livestock improvement project, and a 16-month job on a United Nations project in Somalia. He remains an active grandfather and gardener in Custer County.