Richard “Jeremy” Buckingham was only a teenager when terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 20 years ago.
But the event, along with his patriotism and his faith, helped fuel his later decision to sign up as a Reconnaissance Marine and serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now a trooper with the Colorado State Patrol, Buckingham is proud and honored to drive one of a handful of patrol cars sporting a temporary graphic wrap to commemorate both 9/11’s victims and emergency agencies who responded to the tragedy.
“When I got the car, it was a pretty strong reminder of what we’ve gone through and how much something can stick to you over 20 years, but also a reminder of the pride we should have in the country that we live in,” Buckingham said Wednesday.
The state patrol’s fleet section obtained a select number of graphic wraps to temporarily adhere to patrol vehicles. These depict two firefighters raising an American flag and a Stars and Stripes wave detail down the side with a silhouette of the Twin Towers. The trunk lid sports the “Flag of Honor,” a rendering of the flag that, for stripes, uses the names of those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as in the Feb. 26, 1993 World Trade Center parking garage bombing that killed six.
The Montrose 5C Troop office received one of the specialty wraps. Captain James Saunders knew just the person to put behind the wheel.
“Since he’s a veteran, we thought it would be a good idea and he thought it would be a great idea, so we got this one in our area,” Saunders said.
“It was really special for him. He was in Afghanistan and it’s kind of neat that he was able to drive this car with the special tribute.”
The graphic was wrapped in mid-August and Buckingham is hoping for permission to keep the wrap beyond the two months for which it approved.
“Some of the guys felt I should do it because of my military experience. I took it as more of an honor than anything,” Buckingham said.
“Everybody’s admired it quite a bit. I take a lot of pride in it. … It means a lot to people when they see that.”
Buckingham was a high school sophomore on 9/11. When he got up that morning, his father was glued to the TV and told him one of the towers had been hit. At first, they thought someone had perhaps flown a small plane into the towers, but then, moments later, on live TV, Buckingham watched the second hijacked plane slam into the remaining tower.
“I asked (father) if it was a replay and he told me it wasn’t,” Buckingham said.
When he reached legal age and decided to join the military, he initially was set to enlist as an aircraft mechanic, thinking it would prepare him for a future career. But then, guided by his faith, he prayed about it.
At the time of his enlistment decision, the Marines were offering reconnaissance contracts. Two hours before Buckingham was to ink his enlistment papers, his recruiter called to see if he would like to change that contract to reconn.
Reconnaissance Marine is an infantry Marine unit whose members are trained in amphibious reconn and ground reconn. Above and beyond basic infantry skills, a Reconnaissance Marine is trained in such specialities as scout swimming, small boat operations, refined scouting, patrolling and long-range communication, per the United States Marine Corps description.
“I did it the last minute before I showed up (at the recruitment office). The aircraft mechanic was more of a future planning kind of decision,” Buckingham said. “Reconnaissance is a special unit that is beyond what the infantry training is. You learn more about combat and skills that pertain to that, but it doesn’t really prepare you for a future career.
“It wasn’t a decision based on building my career. But I prayed about it.”
Buckingham deployed immediately, serving in Iraq (2008-09) and Afghanistan (2010).
Iraq was comparatively calm, but Afghanistan was more intense, Buckingham said.
“We did a lot of operations that were a lot higher risk, a lot of fire fights. We had some bad injuries, but we brought everyone back from Afghanistan,” he said.
Although it was during maneuvers, not combat, Buckingham was injured on deployment. He broke vertebrae while crossing a ditch, not realizing the extent of the injury until later. He finished his deployment so as to not leave his team, at the time already down by one man, shorthanded.
Events like 9/11 remind him of what he fought for, said Buckingham, in reflecting on a 9/11 documentary he recently watched with his wife.
“We were both a little bit emotional about what we were seeing,” he said. “When the episode ended, I looked at her and said watching stuff like that … reminded you of what you were fighting for.”
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.