When Veterans Day originated as Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919, Hotchkiss already had reason to pay tribute to its veterans. In 1917, a group of undergraduates from Yale, including Artemus Gates ’14 (who would later become under secretary of the Navy), enlisted in the Navy Reserve Flying Corps. Douglas Campbell ’13 joined the Army, subsequently becoming America's first Flying Ace. Many other alumni followed in their footsteps.
For the past 20 years, the Hotchkiss Veterans Club has recognized service. Faculty advisor Keith Moon P’13,’16 says, “Our mission is to bring recognition and honor to those who have served in the military, whether for this country or any other, so that our students can appreciate the important service that has gone into giving us all the opportunities that we have.”
We offer the following alumni profile as a tribute to all who have served.
LTC (R) Eric Buckland ’73 says his time at Hotchkiss made him “self-reliant and self-disciplined,” and reinforced the critical relationship between effort and achievement. “It etched deeply in my mind the importance of mentors.” These lessons served him well during a 22-year career in the U.S. Army, including 15 in Special Forces (“Green Berets”). His last years in the military were spent in counterdrug operations, and he continued this work with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Buckland praised faculty members for giving him the passion and guidance to succeed at Hotchkiss. “My parents decided that I needed to be challenged, so I found myself in Lakeville as a member of the Class of 1973. I lacked enthusiasm and my efforts were mediocre until faculty members Dave Sermersheim, Walter Crain, George Stone, and Blair Torrey became my mentors—resulting in an incredible senior year.”
Buckland remembers how Torrey’s English class—his favorite course—instilled in him a love of writing. “Even now, when writing a piece, I wonder what he would think of it,” he says. “I was also part of Buddy Weiser & The Hops, a musical group formed by some classmates. It brought together an eclectic group of people who melded into a singular family. With Dave Sermersheim’s ‘gentle oversight,’ we became an entertaining phenomenon that only a place like Hotchkiss could have spawned. I don’t think that anyone at our final 1973 performance will ever forget it. It still makes me smile.” One of the singular honors of his life was being elected captain of his cross country team. “We developed lasting bonds.
In the ROTC, Buckland found another mentor. “The senior non-commissioned officer was an experienced Special Forces master sergeant. He encouraged me to go to Airborne and Ranger School, igniting my desire to attend the Special Forces qualification course.”
A primary mission of Special Forces is to train soldiers from other countries. Buckland trained hundreds during deployments to Latin America. “The training is usually focused on improving professionalism and inculcating the importance of respecting the human rights of civilian populations and enemy combatants.”
Buckland was the operations officer in the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School that conducted all initial skill training for U.S. soldiers going through the Special Forces qualification course, with training occurring simultaneously for 1,000 to 1,500 soldiers. “The job was challenging and rewarding,” he said. “I also commanded the company responsible for training all U.S. soldiers slated for assignment to Civil Affairs units.”
Of his work in counterdrug operations, he notes the natural progression from the military to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “The military missions of unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, and counterinsurgency are similar to counterdrug operations. For 20-plus years, I worked with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. Counterdrug operations are complicated and challenging, but are critically important to the future and safety of our nation and its citizens.”
Proud that he “did everything in my power to take care of the soldiers for whom I had responsibility,” he also mentored them. “As a company commander in the 82nd Airborne Division, my Special Forces experience affected the way I trained and led my paratroopers, and many re-enlisted and became Special Forces soldiers. I am also very proud of graduating from the Army’s Ranger School. It was the hardest thing I ever did!”
To current students, Buckland says of the Special Forces, “At times I was exhausted and miserable from spending days in the jungle. In a few instances, I was terrified, but there were also times I felt intense pride and accomplishment. If that sounds appealing, I would recommend it as a career.”
Buckland’s awards and decorations include: Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal; Joint Service Commendation Medal; Ranger Tab; Special Forces Tab; Master Parachutist Badge; Combat Infantryman’s Badge; Special Forces Underwater Operations Badge; and the Air Assault Badge.
Buckland has been married to his wife, Maureen, for 43 years. They have three grown sons and three grandsons, with the fourth on his way. He now spends much of his time researching Mosby’s Rangers, a Confederate Civil War unit. “Their activities were similar to some of my Special Forces missions, and they operated in the area where I live. I was compelled by the activities of individual Rangers and intrigued by their successes after the War.” He has self-published several books and had articles published in America's Civil War magazine.