Herman Abner Buffington, 88, a long-time North Georgia newspaperman and World War II combat veteran, died July 13, 2014, at his home in Jefferson surrounded by his family after a long battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Services were held Tuesday, July 15, at Evans Funeral Home with interment at Woodbine Cemetery, Jefferson. Pastor Chris Laskey officiated.
Mr. Buffington was a native of Rome, Floyd County, born May 7, 1926, in the community of Texas Valley. He was one of seven sons of the late Abner Cyrenius and Essie Green Buffington whose ancestors had settled in the rural valley in the mid-1800s.
In August 1944, Buffington entered the U.S. Army and was eventually assigned to the 96th Infantry Division, the “Deadeyes,” seeing action in the Pacific Theater. He was a combat soldier in the final battle of WWII with the invasion of Okinawa on Easter Sunday, 1945.
As the music to Irvin Berlin’s “Easter Parade” blared over the ship’s loudspeakers that Sunday morning, he and his comrades climbed overboard from their ship into a landing craft heading toward the beach for what would become a three-month fight to secure the island. He spent his 19th birthday in a muddy foxhole on the island as American forces fought to capture it for the final stepping-stone to invade Japan. Okinawa was one of the bloodiest battles in American history with over 12,000 American servicemen killed and another 36,000 wounded. Buffington was wounded by mortar fire the day before the battle ended.
For his combat service, Buffington earned the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon with two battle stars (Okinawa and Saipan), the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Philippine Independence Ribbon, the Good Conduct Medal, the Victory Ribbon and three overseas service bars. The 96th Division was one of only four Army divisions to earn the Presidential Unit Citation in WWII.
He earned the Bronze Star for leading a group of five other privates out into a nighttime firefight in an effort to carry ammunition to buddies who were trapped at the top of a 60-foot knob and surrounded by Japanese soldiers attempting to overrun their position.
After recovering from his wound, Buffington was sent to Saipan where he and other soldiers boarded ships preparing to invade Japan. But with the atomic bombs of August 1945, the war ended and he was sent to the Philippine Islands where he participated in some mop-up duties and lifeguarded at the beach until finally being deactivated and sent home in 1946.
Buffington was active in the annual 96th Division reunions held at various places around the country and attended the events until his health began to fail. In 1995, he returned to Okinawa in observance of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa.
Buffington was featured on Col. Oliver North’s “War Stories” television series and he wrote a book, “Okinawa: Etched Deep in My Mind,” a few years ago about his war experiences.
In the 1990s, he bought and restored a vintage WW II Army Jeep, which he rode in local parades and took to display at historic military vehicle events. He also enjoyed taking grandchildren for rides in the old Jeep. Buffington was active as a veteran in the American Legion, an organization he had been a member of for 68 years, and in the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Fellow Georgia newspaper publisher Myles Godfrey, writing in a letter about Buffington’s war memories book, said, “Frankly, to call yours ‘the Greatest Generation’ does not go far enough. It is hard for all of us (especially young people today) to understand how you faced all of that and saved the world from such evil.”
After returning home from the war, he met the love of his life, Helen Toles, on a blind date. She was a reporter with The Rome News-Tribune. They married in 1949 and celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary earlier this year.
Buffington attended the Carroll Lynn School of Business and the Rome branch of the University of Georgia after the war on the GI Bill. He worked for Vic’s Goodyear Tire, Bradshaw Tire Company and the Celanese Corporation in Rome and Pepperell Mfg. Company in Lindale.
In 1960, the Buffingtons went to work for The Summerville News in Northwest Georgia where he served as advertising and circulation director for five years.
In 1965, the Buffingtons bought The Jackson Herald in Jefferson. Amid a tumultuous time that saw the county’s district attorney bombed and murdered, Buffington as publisher and his wife as editor took the struggling small-town newspaper into profitability and editorial success through an intense focus on local news and repeated tough calls for cleaning up the county’s multiple layers of corruption and organized crime.
In addition to the newspaper focus, Buffington expanded the firm’s commercial printing operations and switched production from the antiquated “hot type” system to modern offset printing. Although his primary job with the newspaper was managing advertising and business duties, he loved to get his hands inky in the “shop” with commercial job printing projects and could often be found working nights and weekends to get out a late job, coming home with a good shirt smeared with ink.
The Buffingtons launched The Banks County News in Homer in 1968 and bought The Commerce News in Commerce in 1987. The firm purchased The Madison County Journal in 1997 (later merged with the Comer News and Danielsville Monitor) and adopted a new corporate name for the growing group of newspapers that year, MainStreet Newspapers, Inc.
Buffington served as a director of the Georgia Press Association from 1982 to 1985 and received the GPA’s Golden Club Award for 50 years of working in the newspaper industry in Georgia.
“For more than 40 years, Herman Buffington has been an inspiration to me and many other community newspaper publishers and editors,” said Robert Williams, longtime publisher of the Blacksher (Ga.) Times and president of the National Newspaper Association. “Herman loved his communities and served them over many decades by providing newspapers that were a wide-ranging reflection of everyday life in that area — the good and the bad. Herman believed that if you liked what you read in his newspaper, then help create more of it. If you didn’t like what you read, then help change it. Jackson County and that whole area has benefitted from Herman’s leadership in many capacities and providing strong editorial coverage and guidance is chief among them.”
Another long-serving Georgia newspaper publisher also discussed Buffington’s dedication to his community.
“His commitment, dedication and expertise was an inspiration to all who were fortunate enough to serve with him,” said Billy Fleming, publisher of the Early County News, Blakely, Ga. “For me, it was the calm sincerity I felt when I was around him and his dedication not to his newspaper, but also to his family. It came as no surprise when I watched Mike and Scott follow in his footsteps and become assets to their community and our industry.”
He retired from active participation in the business in the late 1990s due to declining health, but remained as president of the corporation as his two sons carried on the family business. Today, the company publishes six weekly newspapers in Northeast Georgia: The Jackson Herald, The Commerce News, The Banks County News, The Madison County Journal, The Braselton News and the Barrow Journal.
In addition to his work as a newspaper publisher, Buffington was active in his church, his veterans groups and other local civic and community events. He was a member of the Jefferson First United Methodist Church, a lifetime member of the Jefferson Lions Club, a member of the Commerce Kiwanis Club and a director of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, a group he helped organize in the 1970s. In 2000, Buffington and his wife were honored by the chamber with the William Booth Community Service Award, the chamber’s highest honor.
Buffington was a leader in having a war memorial placed at Jackson County’s Historic Courthouse and the establishment of a monument at the Historic Courthouse as a memorial to District Attorney Floyd Hoard, who was murdered in Jackson County by organized crime figures in 1967.
“I worked with Mr. Herman on many projects over the years and his honesty and commitment to our community have made Jackson County a better place,” said former Jackson County Board of Commissioners chairman and former State Representative Pat Bell. “People don’t realize how much courage it took for him and his newspaper to help shine the light on corruption and bring about change in this county.
“But what I admired most about him was his good nature and humor. No matter what problems we faced, he was always able to inject a funny comment. Many years ago when a group we both served on was discussing how to raise some funds, he teasingly said ‘Money won’t be a problem, we’ll just print some on our press.’ His absence in our community will be missed.”
Buffington enjoyed photography and did most of the newspaper’s photography and darkroom film developing for many years. He often did that on Saturdays after making photos at local high school football games the night before. While in the darkroom developing film, he would have the radio blaring UGA football games as entertainment.
He long enjoyed quail hunting and raising bird dogs and for many years could be found every Thanksgiving Day in the woods with his teenage sons and a dog, hunting for quail. In earlier years, he hunted in the mountains behind Berry College in Rome with his brothers and other family members.
His final quail hunt was in the mid-1990s with his son Mike and a group of fellow Georgia newspaper publishers. The hunt was at a hunting plantation in Southwest Georgia on a trip arranged by Blakely publisher Fleming.
“I have many fond memories of Mr. Herman from our many years of friendship,” said Fleming. “Among my fondest, however, came a few years after I had lost my father. Watching Mr. Herman and Mike enjoy an outing together in South Georgia quail hunting and sharing with fellow newspaper colleagues was special to me. Too often we take for granted the time we have to spend with those we love.”
Although rusty from years of having hunted very little, Mr. Buffington killed many birds on that trip, shaming his younger companions. A few weeks later, he suddenly lost much of his eyesight to ischemic optic neuropathy and had to retire his gun.
The publisher was interested in history, especially military history from the American Revolution forward. He and his wife enjoyed international travel for several years with visits to such places as Western and Eastern Europe, Israel and the Philippines.
Survivors and spouses include his wife, Helen; two sons, Michael Herman Buffington and Scott Lee Buffington and Wendy all of Jefferson; four grandchildren, Brittany Buffington Truelove and Taylor, Martin Lee Buffington and Brittany, Blair Michael Buffington and Clark Thomas Buffington, all of Jefferson; two step-grandsons, Jonathon David Nix and James Joshua Nix, Jefferson; three great-grandchildren, Axle Lee Buffington, Macy Mae and Max Henley Truelove, all of Jefferson; two brothers, C.D. “Tim” and Edward Buffington, both of Rome; and a brother-in-law, Thomas Taylor Toles, Jr., Jefferson. He is also survived by 17 nieces and nephews and many great-nieces and great-nephews.
Pallbearers were: Marty Buffington, Blair Buffington, Clark Buffington, Taylor Truelove, Jonathan Nix, Josh Nix, Jimmy Buffington, Julius Mack and Steve Hollis.
Honorary pallbearers were employees of Mainstreet Newspapers, Inc. and Jefferson American Legion Post 56.
In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Jefferson First United Methodist Church, 188 Martin St., Jefferson, Ga. 30549.
Evans Funeral Home, Jefferson, was in charge of arrangements.
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