Bucha, MOH recipient, speaks to new cadets on leadership

Story and photo by Kathy Eastwood Staff Writer

July 13th, 2017 | News, News and Features
 Class of 1965 retired captain, Vietnam vet and Medal of Honor recipient Paul ‘Buddy’ Bucha spoke to roughly 1,200 new cadets on leadership at Robinson Auditorium, July 7. Bucha talked of the five elements of leadership: honor, confidence, competence, humility and compassion.

Roughly 1,200 new cadets, just four days after arriving at West Point for Reception Day, or R-Day, attended their first lecture with retired Capt. Paul ‘Buddy’ Bucha, U.S. Military Academy Class of 1965, Medal of Honor recipient and Distinguished Graduate, spoke about the ideals of leadership July 7 at Robinson Auditorium.

Bucha’s speaking style is to engage his audience by slowly pacing up and down the stage looking directly at the audience and sometimes even pointing to them asking them to stand up.

“When I come here to West Point, the first thing I have to find out is why you are here,” Bucha said. “How many came here to be athletes? Stand up. That’s not a good idea. You don’t come to West Point to become an athlete. You go to a school that lets you get up at 11 a.m., get a drink of water and then go back to bed because you don’t have to be in class until 1 pm if you want to be an athlete.

“You are here to be a leader,” Bucha continued. “That means you’re here to sacrifice, and sacrifice and sacrifice again. It means you have the understanding to go up to a person who is afraid and say I am afraid, too. That’s what it is to be a leader. It’s not easy and this country desperately needs you. If being a leader, starting now, is something that excites you, then you are in the right place.”

Bucha spoke about the five elements of leadership; honor, confidence, competence, compassion and humility. But first, there must be trust.

“Leadership is based on trust,” Bucha explained. “In order to earn trust, honesty is the foremost asset you can have. If you don’t know something, it’s best to say I don’t know, but I will find out. With that comes honor, and that is the foundation of leadership. It is no coincidence that there is an honor code at West Point. Honor is not a complex thing, it is doing what’s right and having the guts to stand up when you are confused and ask someone. And one thing about honor at West Point, you don’t have a general officer, a command sergeant major or a commandant, there is no line when it comes to honor as to whom you can go to for guidance. There is no rank when it comes to honor.”

Bucha said that confidence means getting up and doing something you may not have the ability or experience in doing, but doing it the best way you can and you must believe that you can do it. With confidence comes competence.

“All leaders need competence,” Bucha said. “You have to know what you are doing. It’s not so nice when you don’t think your company commander knows how to read a map. When you are in a situation where you’re trying to prove your competence, don’t be afraid of the fact that something is not clicking that day, that is human. And never think there will be so much humiliation and embarrassment because that’s not real, that is in your imagination. Don’t ever let the honor code get confused with insecurity.”

Another element in leadership is compassion. Bucha said that no one comes to West Point or into a platoon without fear, without insecurity and without concerns. Everyone needs someone to tell him or her that things are going to be all right.

“Don’t make a big deal about asking someone for help,” Bucha explained. “It takes courage to say, ‘I’m scared,’ and it takes an idiot to say ‘I’m not scared.’ Everybody you talk to and everybody you deal with has the same needs that you and everyone else has. A Soldier may come to you and say ‘Sir, my dad just died.’ You have a role to play and the person who is talking to you wants you to listen.”

Bucha talked about his experience when he was called upon to train a platoon to explain the last element of leadership, humility.

“I got up in front of the unit and half the platoon called me the old man,” Bucha said. “I got a kick out of it because I was younger than most of them, but I realized that all of them were very special to someone else on the planet and they had assigned me to lead them. And those people are trusting me to take care of their person. I’m thinking about what happens if I don’t do it right. Then I looked at it as an honor. It is the fact that my young hands and I have been handed Soldiers to train and they trusted my judgement. That’s why I was there.”

Bucha was given command of the 4th Company of the 3rd Battalion when the 187th Infantry Regiment decided to add a fourth unit.

The unit, known as the Clerks and Jerks in Vietnam, was a small company of about 89 men commanded by Bucha. The unit was tasked to seek out enemy strongholds that were thought to be in the area.

Bucha received his MOH for his actions on March 18, 1968, when his company’s lead group of 12 men suddenly became involved in an all-out fight for survival in Vietnam when they came across a full battalion of the North Vietnamese Army. Bucha’s lead group was heavily outnumbered and was pinned down. Bucha crawled toward the enemy and took out the North Vietnamese Bunker.

Bucha’s unit managed to form a wide-dispersed pattern to throw grenades and set off Claymore mines to confuse the enemy and make their perimeter seem larger than it was. At one time despite enemy sniper fire, Bucha stood up and used flashlights in the middle of the night to coordinate the landing of the medevac chopper.

At dawn, the NVA withdrew and Bucha led a group to rescue the Soldiers who had been cut off from the rest of the unit.