Hank Buechli was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, in 1928, but his father, an electrician, moved with Hank, his Polish immigrant mother, and his three sisters to North Bergen early in his life. Naturally left-handed, he was forced in school to learn to write with his right hand. He recalls significant unemployment in his community during the Great Depression and rationing in World War II. With returning veterans taking many jobs, Hank enlisted in the Army in 1946, completing basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, before being assigned to occupation duty in Japan. Transported across the Pacific by ship, he arrived in Tokyo and served in the 720th Military Police Battalion. He was impressed by Japanese culture and interacted easily with the locals. Having grown up in a poor and diverse neighborhood, he considered the most distasteful aspect of his MP duties in Japan to be enforcing segregation, which shaped his later involvement in the civil rights movement. After he was discharged from the Army at the end of 1947, Hank worked as an electrician and became active in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), eventually succeeding his father as president of the labor union’s local chapter. He and his wife also participated in civil rights protests, demonstrating to their three children that they “were passionate for equality.” In addition, they found a nurturing faith community at Germonds Presbyterian Church in New City, New York, and helped build houses with Habitat for Humanity.
In this interview, Hank Buechli reflects on his childhood, his Army service during the occupation of Japan, his experiences as a labor union leader, and his activism in pursuit of justice and equality, concluding that he “was blessed to serve in the Army.”