Feature

Frank W. Buckles, 1901–2011

The Great War’s last surviving American veteran

As a Missouri farm boy, Frank Buckles wanted adventure, and in 1917 nothing promised more of it than fighting “the war to end all wars.” The Marines and the Navy turned him down as too young, but he finally lied his way into the Army, which sent him to France as an ambulance driver.

“Every last one of us Yanks believed we’d wrap this thing up in a month or two and head back home before harvest,” Buckles told The Washington Post. More than 4.7 million Americans served in the war, and 116,516 died in it. Buckles, “a cordial fellow of gentle humor,” saw the suffering among his fellow servicemen, but also in the hungry French children he fed and the weary German POWs he escorted home “after the vast bloodletting of the world’s first industrial war.”

When it was over, Buckles got to meet his hero, Gen. John J. Pershing, said The New York Times, and was on hand to see Jesse Owens enrage Adolf Hitler by winning gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In 1941, while working in the Philippines, he was imprisoned by the Japanese. By the time he was freed, in February 1945, he had lost 50 pounds.
In 1954 Buckles and his wife settled on a cattle farm near Charles Town, W.Va. Since 2008, when he became
the last American World War I veteran alive, he made it “his mission to see to it that his comrades were honored with a monument on the National Mall,” said CNN​.com. The result: a Senate bill proposing that a local memorial be rededicated as a national monument. Buckles was to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, not far from Pershing’s grave.

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