Memorial Day is more than pre-summer holiday

First Sergeant Eaton (left) and Capt. R. Allen Buckhalt in Afghanistan


Capt. Allen Buckhalt is a Black Hawk helicopter pilot with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army Bravo Company and graduated in 1998 from Palmetto High School. His older sister, Rebecca Haggard, remembers that even as a boy her brother always marched to the beat of his own drum. So when he announced to the family right after college graduation that he had enlisted in the Army, only his father was surprised.

“Everybody in the house is a Seminole — my wife, me and Bekki,” said the father, Russell Buckhalt. “But Allen wanted to be a Gator and went to Florida. He graduated in August 2001 with a political science degree and then September 11th happened. The next thing I know, he came home and announced that he had joined the Army. I was just flabbergasted.”

The elder Buckhalt served in the National Guard for six years and his father also served in the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.

“Allen has always been very patriotic,” he said. “After 9-11, he was so touched by the horrific damage done, he said ‘I want to go and help my country.’ As a child, we tried to teach him to be patriotic; maybe we taught him too well.”

Allen’s mother, Esperansa, met her husband in Tallahassee in 1961 shortly after she fled the civil war in her native Cuba. They fell in love while attending North Florida Junior College and eventually transferred to Florida State. Ultimately they settled in South Florida and Palmetto Bay, and raised a family. Residents of the area now for 40 years, Esperansa is a retired guidance counselor from Coral Gables High School and Russell is a retired administrator for the Florida Department of Corrections.

“Having come here from a war-torn country, this current conflict takes on a new dimension,” said Esperansa. “We are pursuing freedoms for others and, at the same time, maintaining our own freedoms that we often take for granted. This dedicated group of young men and women that make up our military are wonderfully unselfish kids. My heart goes out to everyone over there serving and to their families as Memorial Day approaches. We understand what a parent feels when their child is in jeopardy, but we are extremely proud of our son and support him 100 percent.”

Capt. Buckhalt, a company commander, began working his way up through the ranks right after he finished basic training, recalls his sister Rebecca Haggard, a Pinecrest resident.

“He went to Iraq in 2003 as mechanical crew chief for the Apache Helicopter Brigade,” she said. “Then he went on to Officer Candidate School and then to flight school. He is 32 years old and has been a commissioned officer for three years now.”

Rebecca also remembers the helicopter and airplane models that were scattered about her brother’s bedroom as a child, and she acknowledges the military connection with their grandfather, who died before Allen was born. She says she thinks that her brother is living his destiny.

“It is so hard for his wife Bonnie (a retired Army major), who is in Fayetteville, North Carolina near Fort Bragg where they have been based,” said Rebecca. “She is raising their three-year-old daughter, Ava, and 16-year-old son, Joel, on her own. The sacrifices are so tough being away from his family and his little girl, but he is strong and brave, and doing what he is meant to do.”

For the Haggard and Buckhalt households, Memorial Day is more than a fun holiday break before summer.

“Whenever there is a holiday that honors the military it is very difficult for us because we know that Allen is in harm’s way,” said Russell Buckhalt. “We honor all of our military on Memorial Day and we are humbled and proud of Allen. In his dedication to serve, he embodies the best of what this country is made of.”

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