Editor’s Note: The following story is the seventh installment in the “Stories That Live Forever” series. The series originated in 2007 to commemorate Memorial Day and honor the names listed on the Washington State University Veterans Memorial on the WSU campus. To access the original six parts of the series click the
For Cougar football fans, these names stir fond memories of exploits on the gridiron, so much so, that these past Cougar quarterback greats were recently immortalized on a lithograph print titled “Quarterback U.”
During his time at Washington State College, Buckley was a multiple sport letterwinner. Years afterward, he saved multiple lives by sacrificing his own in one of the most famous battles in American history.
Born in Colville in 1906, Buckley attended WSC from 1926-1930. Playing at a level that belied his 5-foot-7, 150 pound frame, Buckley earned nine varsity letters in three sports: football, basketball and baseball.
In those sports, the future Cougar-legend played for legendary coaching figures. He played 73 basketball games in his three-year career at WSC, the final two under head coach Jack Friel. On the diamond, Buckley played third base for coach Buck Bailey.
In football, he served on the gridiron under Babe Hollingbery. It was a football career that was highlighted by one game in the 1929 season: Washington.
Coming off a 14-0 loss at California that dropped their record to 2-1, the Cougars returned home for an Oct. 19 date against Washington, who itself was victim of a shutout loss the week before, 48-0 to Southern California.
The first Washington game to take place at Pullman in four years would be a memorable one for the Cougars.
But things it didn’t start out that way.
The Huskies did their best to silence a Rogers Field crowd of 15,000 by jumping out to a 13-0 lead in the second quarter. Facing the early double-digit deficit, Hollingbery made a quarterback switch to Buckley in the hopes of providing a spark for his team.
According to the Spokesman-Review account, when Buckley came into the game, WSC showed new life “almost instantaneously.” Before the half, Buckley led the Cougars to a touchdown that cut the deficit to 13-7 at thebreak.
That was the score heading into fourth quarter when, as the Spokesman stated: Buckley made four yards, Buckley made six, Buckley made four again.
Motivating his teammates to such a level that tears were in his eyes, Buckley stirred his Cougar teammates to a level of belief that they can win this game.
He drove his team to the tying score and if that wasn’t enough, he not only served in the quarterback role, but as a kicker as well, kicking the extra point after the second touchdown to put WSC ahead 14-13.
The Cougars added one more score for good measure and secured its first victory over Washington in three years with a 20-13 win. The headline in the Oct. 20 Spokesman read: W.S.C. Stages Great Rally to Defeat University of Washington 20 to 13, Before 15,000 Fans.
The subhead read: Buckley is Hero of Uphill Scrap.
A portion of the story read that Buckley “takes his niche in W.S.C. football hall of fame alongside the gridiron greats of other years.” Those words proved prophetic 55 years later when in 1984, Buckley earned induction to the WSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
At the conclusion of the 1929 season (a season that ended with the Cougars posting a 10-2 record and just missing out on a Rose Bowl berth) Buckley was awarded the J. Fred Bohler award.
Known as the greatest honor that can be bestowed to a Washington State athlete,it’s given to individuals for being the greatest inspiration on the team.
The inspiration Buckley provided in the Washington game served as a precursor for what he would achieve over a decade later, half a world away.
After graduating from WSC, Buckley took a position as a football coach at Chehalis High School. After two years at the school, he moved to North Central High in Spokane, where he coached from 1931 to 1942.
At North Central, Buckley carried the passion he demonstrated in the Washington game to his coaching style. “A North Central team never quits!” was his mantra to his gridiron squad.
Buckley’s pregame talks were known to be so inspiring that one player said, “if he told me to run through a brick wall, I’d do it with glad cries of joy.”
But his motivational talks were not limited to his North Central football team. In an address to the team, pep band, and student body, Buckley began his talk with a football theme, but transformed it into something more, saying, “after all, if you are not on an athletic team, get in the band, the operetta, the debate team, the art club. DO SOMETHING! Don’t leave school a zero, a nobody who did nothing! Do something for yourself and North Central.”
In 1942, Buckley decided it was time he did something for his country so after 11 years at the school and leading the football program to a pair of city championships, he enlisted in the Navy to serve in World War II.
He was assigned to duty on the USS Saratoga. The Saratoga was first launched in 1925, but was in San Diego on the day of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
Though it missed that historic day in U.S. history, it would be present during one of the historic battles of World War II, the Battle of Iwo Jima.
At 5 p.m. on February 21, 1945, just two days after the battle began, six Japanese planes attacked the fleet and scored five hits on the Saratoga inflicting tremendous damage.
A total of 123 crewman, including Lieutenant Buckley, were killed in the attack. Before he passed, Buckley’s effort on the ship ensured that many other crewman did not meet the same fate.
An account from one of the men he saved, Ensign Leo Andr
A plane director had just completed hooking my plane to the starboard catapult, when I suddenly saw Lieutenant Buckley frantically waving his arms to attract my attention. Upon getting it, he then pointed starboard aft. As I turned to look aft, I saw him trying to attract Ensign Powell’s attention on the port catapult.
I saw two enemy planes, one on starboard beam, coming in very fast and strafing with an obvious intent of flying into the starboard side, the other further aft of which I soon lost sight of. I unbuckled my shoulder straps and made the starboard life nets as the first bomb hit the port catapult.
I sincerely believe that Lieutenant Buckley’s courage to stay and warn us of the impending danger, before seeking safety himself, kept me from possible death or serious burns.
For his heroism, Buckley was awarded the Bronze Star, the Navy Cross, and Purple Heart. The citation for the Bronze Star, signed by the Secretary of the Navy on behalf of President Franklin Roosevelt read:
For heroic achievement as Catapult Officer on board the USS Saratoga in action against Japanese forces near Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, on February 21, 1945.
First to observe the Japanese plane headed in on lightning course for his carrier, Lieutenant Buckley remained in the line of enemy strafing, desperately striving to attract the attention of his crews and the pilots of two aircraft secured to the catapults.
Refusing to seek cover for himself, he directed all his men to positions of comparative safety, and was still at his post when the attacker crashed into the forward end of the flight deck on the starboard side.
Through his alert warning and gallant consideration of others in the face of imminent peril to himself, the lives of several men were saved. His courageous conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Perhaps the words from the Spokesman’s account of the 1929 Washington game best summarizes the life of Archie Buckley, regardless if it was on Rogers Field against the Huskies, or on the flight deck of the Saratoga.
“. . . the mighty ovation given him by the crowd of more than 15,000 was a fitting tribute to a warrior who, undaunted by almost insurmountable odds, threw himself into the fray with reckless abandon and simply would not admit defeat.”