Phil Bucklew was born on December 18, 1914, in Columbus, Ohio. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve on January 7, 1930, and was honorably discharged on January 6, 1934. After earning his bachelor's degree at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, Bucklew played professional football with the Cleveland Rams from 1937 to 1939, and then founded the Columbus Bulldogs football team in 1939, serving as their coach until the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He was then commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy Reserve, going on active duty the same day, March 20, 1942, and served as an instructor in the Navy Physical Training Program until being selected for the Scouts and Raiders training program in August 1942. After completing the first Scouts and Raiders training class at Amphibious Training Base Little Creek, Virginia, he served as a Navy Scout and commanded a scout boat during Operation Torch (the invasion of North Africa) in November 1942, Operation Husky (the invasion of Sicily) in July 1943, Operation Avalanche (the invasion of Italy at Salerno) in September 1943, the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France, in June 1944. His final assignment in World War II was in China, where he helped train and equip Chinese guerrillas fighting the Japanese until he left active duty on May 12, 1946. After leaving active duty, Bucklew worked as a football coach at Xavier University until he returned to active duty in the Navy on September 9, 1948. His next assignment was as an assistant professor of Naval Science with the Navy ROTC detachment at Columbia University from September 1948 to June 1951, and during this time he served as assistant football coach for the university, and also completed his Ph.D. in Education. He served as Commanding Officer of Beach Jumper Unit TWO at NAB Little Creek from June 1951 to 1956. His next assignment was as Commander of a Naval Advisory Group in South Korea that helped the CIA conduct operations against North Korea, followed by service at the Intelligence School of the Amphibious Training Command at NAB Coronado, California. CDR Bucklew served as the staff Intelligence Officer for Amphibious Group ONE at NAB Coronado from 1961 to June 1963, and then as Executive Officer at NAB Coronado from June to November 1963. His next assignment was as Commander of Naval Operations Support Group, United States Pacific Fleet (later renamed Naval Special Warfare Group ONE) at NAB Coronado, California, from November 1963 to December 1966. During this time he managed most of the Naval Special Warfare forces in Southeast Asia. His final assignment was as Director of the Special Warfare and Special Operations Division, OP-343, with the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon from December 1966 until his retirement from the Navy on December 1, 1969. After retiring from the Navy, Bucklew served as the Washington, D.C., representative for Swiftships, a Louisiana boat-building company from 1974 to 1984. Phil Bucklew died on December 30, 1992, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
His 2nd Navy Cross Citation reads:
For extraordinary heroism as Scout Boat Officer during the amphibious assault on the Normandy Coast of France, June 6, 1944. Embarked in one of the first craft to approach the strongly defended coast, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Bucklew successfully accomplished his highly important mission of locating the designated beaches and, despite rough surf and continuous, harassing enemy fire, skillfully led the first wave of DD tanks, going in close to the beach and taking his station as guide. Firing the boat's rockets over the tanks at target objectives in support of the landings, he moved in closer to direct his guns at suspected hostile machine-gun nests in houses along the beach and subsequently, in the face of heavy enemy opposition, rescued wounded personnel from burning landing craft and regulated the flow of traffic throughout the morning and afternoon of D-Day. Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Bucklew's splendid leadership, indomitable fighting spirit and tireless devotion to duty under perilous conditions reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service.