After dropping out of high school in Lynchburg, Virginia, Al Buckelew began his Army career in November 1947. Graduating from Parachute and Glider Training at Ft. Benning, GA in February 1948, he first served with the 307th Airborne Medical Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division where he was trained as a surgical technician. When the call went out for Ranger volunteers in 1950, he volunteered and joined, as a combat medical aid-man serving in Korea with the 1st Airborne Ranger Infantry Company, which was attached to the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.
He voluntarily extended his tour in Korea and served heroically as a combat medic throughout four campaigns. During the May Massacre in 1951, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor and the Purple Heart when he twice exposed himself to enemy automatic weapons fire to rescue two seriously wounded infantrymen. Other awards while in Korea included the Combat Infantryman Badge. In 1951, he was discharged.
With his AA degree, he reenlisted in the Army in September 1954 and was selected to attend the Infantry Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning. Graduating OCS in January 1956, he was again assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division's 23rd Infantry Regiment.
In 1961, Buckelew, now a captain, volunteered for Special Forces, graduated Special Forces Officer Course Class 33-G-F3 in 1961, and was assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group. He was selected for assignment to Operation White Star, described as an "unconventional warfare operation" in Laos, under the command of Colonel Arthur D. "Bull" Simons. Returning from Laos, he was selected by Colonel Simons to serve as his group intelligence officer for the 8th Special Forces Group in Panama. After serving in Panama for three years, Captain Buckelew attended the Infantry Advanced Course in 1965. On completion of that course, he was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam form 1966-1967 as the XO Detachment C-5 (Special Operations) and was the Team Leader for Project OAK where he commanded a unilateral intelligence collection operation with operations in South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam.
Returning Stateside he was transferred from Infantry to Military Intelligence and was then assigned to the 500th Military Intelligence Group on detached service to Taiwan with another intelligence agency from 1968 to 1969. Major Buckelew volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam and was assigned as acting battalion commander to the 1st Military Intelligence Battalion, 525th Military Intelligence Group, in I Corps. He received a second Bronze Star for meritorious service and promotion to lieutenant colonel.
His last assignment before retiring was Director of Intelligence, Directorate of Intelligence and Security,, US Army Pacific (USARPAC) in Hawaii. While in Hawaii he also earned his Bachelor's in Political Science and History from Chaminade University in 1971. He was awarded the Legion of Merit on his retirement. In 2007, Al was inducted into the U.S. Army’s Ranger Hall of Fame.