U.S. Marine Pfc. Dustin Buckner watched in disbelief as national news broadcasts showed the devastation from a tornado that hit his hometown of Cashion last week.
Buckner, 19, wanted to pitch in, but there wasn't much he could do from his station more than 1,000 miles away at Camp Pendleton, Calif. So he told his gunnery sergeant about his desire to help. The response was immediate. Take two friends, drive to Oklahoma and help however you can, his sergeant told him.
“I brought it up to him at 7 a.m., and we were out of there at noon,” Buckner said.
Friday, just as Kevin Roady was wondering how he was going to keep digging through the remains of his Piedmont home without a backhoe, reinforcements arrived in the form of Buckner and his two friends, Pfc. Robert Southwick, 19, of Long Island, N.Y., and Pfc. James Belohlavek, 20, of North Dakota.
The three went straight to work, lifting huge pieces of wood off the pile of debris Roady once called home, searching for pictures and other keepsakes that could be salvaged.
“Where did those guys come from?” Roady said.
Buckner said he couldn't believe the damage when he saw it firsthand.
“I've seen it on TV before, but it is a lot different when you see it in person,” Buckner said. “You see one of your friend's houses that you used to see every day, and now it's just leveled.”
Whatever surprise Buckner felt at seeing the damage, the reaction was even stronger from Belohlavek and Southwick, who are from parts of the country where such storms don't normally happen.
“Destruction like this I haven't seen. I was speechless,” Southwick said. “You see people standing in what used to be their homes, and now it's just wood and brick.”
Equally surprising to the out-of-towners was the attitude of those they were helping. People who had lost their homes and virtually all their possessions were grateful the storm spared their lives.
“I was really amazed at how people were just in such high spirits,” Southwick said. “I hear all the time from these people they just want to find their personal effects and pictures and stuff that makes a house a home.”
Buckner expected as much. It's the reason he felt so strongly about coming back to help. “That's Cashion,” he said.
The three Marines are in town until Friday, when they will head back to Camp Pendleton.
Southwick said he'll have plenty of stories to tell.
“I've seen cars flipped over, huge trees just taken down, farming equipment torn up and crumpled, a piece of five-ton metal thrown around like nothing,” Southwick said. “It's amazing to see.”