The death of a Kansas policeman Tuesday from injuries suffered during the massive wave of storms that swept that area Friday was felt on Fort Stewart, as a young soldier readied to deploy to Iraq.
“He died doing what he loved,” Sally Buckman, wife of Police Officer Robert Tim Buckman, said Tuesday, according to Troy Wright, who worked with the fellow Macksville employee for the past five years.
Tim Buckman, 46, died Tuesday morning in a Wichita, Kan., hospital after suffering massive injuries Friday night from a tornado that swept through near Macksville, Kan.
The elder Buckman’s death caused some anxious hours half a continent away as his son-in-law, Army Pfc. Seth Cole, was told by his commanders at Fort Stewart that he would not be allowed to return home to console his wife and children but instead would be deployed to Iraq as scheduled on Tuesday.
But military officials changed their minds Tuesday afternoon as Cole and his unit were about to board buses to their deployment planes in Savannah.
“The battalion commander came over and sat down with me and said, ‘Where do you need to be?”’ Cole told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I said, ‘I need to be home with my wife’s family.’ And he said, ‘OK, you’re going.”’
Fort Stewart spokesman Rich Olson confirmed that Cole had been granted emergency leave.
Cole, 22, said he doesn’t know how much time he’ll have in Kansas before he has to deploy to Iraq, but said he will at least have time to attend his father-in-law’s funeral with his wife, December, and their three young girls.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “I just called my wife and she’s jumping for joy.”
The storm that killed Buckman was not the same tonado as the EF-5 one that flattened Greensburg, Kan., and killed 10 people, according to meteorologists.
The police officer and full-time Macksville city employee was rushing to warn rural residents of the approaching storm when it crushed his squad car and flung it 300 yards into a field east of Macksville. He was critically injured and was taken to Via Christi Regional Medical Center, St. Francis Campus, in Wichita.
“He died being a hero,” his son, Derick Buckman, said. “He was sworn to protect people and that’s what he was doing the night he got picked up by a tornado.”
Troy Wright, Macksville police chief, said Buckman “was a good old common guy, big-hearted. He loved to hunt and fish, and he really loved storm spotting. He ate it up; he lived for it. He loved fire(fighting) and rescue work, too.”
Tim Buckman was a volunteer fireman as well, for both Macksville and Stafford County. He and Wright, in addition to comprising the Macksville police force, were the town’s sole full-time employees, along with City Clerk Janet Hudson.
During his final hours, the elder Buckman was able to symbolically give away his 18-year-old daughter in a marriage ceremony at his bedside, Derick Buckman said. The family’s hometown preacher officiated at the ceremony for Kylee Buckman and her boyfriend, Josh Mondello, 22, Derick’s best friend.
“He was there with his daughter to give her away,” said Derick, 25, a firefighter.
Derick Buckman said he last talked with his father by phone Friday evening after hearing about Greensburg’s destruction and asked his father if they would need help with search and rescue efforts.
“He said, ‘I don’t know yet, but if you can get here, get here. We’ll probably need you here first,”’ Derick Buckman said.
En route to meet his father, Buckman had to dodge numerous tornadoes himself. His father wasn’t as lucky.
Robert Buckman was on his way to warn residents in two rural houses to get to safety when he tried to call his youngest son, who was staying with his grandparents in Great Bend.
“I’m guessing he just pushed a button on the phone,” Derick Buckman said. “The last words out of his mouth that anybody heard of him before he was found were, ‘I can’t get away from it. It’s too big. I’m screwed.’ And then his phone and his police radio went dead.”
A passerby noticed the crushed police car when a bolt of lightning illuminated it in a field and stopped to help.
“All I can tell you is the car was crushed like it was put in an actual crusher at a junkyard,” Derick Buckman said. “It was that flat.”
The rural residents Robert Buckman was trying to warn were unharmed, his son said.
Jerry Buxton, a writer for the Great Bend Tribune, and the Associated Press reported this story.