The last American veteran of World War I has died.
At first, it didn’t seem like the like the Missouri-born Frank Buckles would ever go to war. He was repeatedly turned down by military recruiters on account of his age (he was only 16 when the war broke out) but successfully enlisted when he convinced an Army captain he was 18.
“A boy of [that age], he’s not afraid of anything,” said Buckles, who had first tried to join the Marines. “He wants to get in there.”
“I went to the state fair up in Wichita, Kansas, and while there, went to the recruiting station for the Marine Corps,” he told the AP in 2007. “The nice Marine sergeant said I was too young when I gave my age as 18, said I had to be 21.” A week later, Buckles returned to tell the Marine recruiter he was 21, only to be informed that he wasn’t heavy enough.
Buckles then tried for the Navy, but was turned down on account of his flat feet. Finally, he tried for the Army. When a captain asked for his birth certificate, Buckles said they weren’t issued in Missouri at the time of his birth, but that there was a record in the family Bible. “I said, ‘You don’t want me to bring the family Bible down, do you?’” Buckles remembered with a laugh. “He said, ‘OK, we’ll take you.'”
In Europe, Buckles served as a driver, having been told by an old sergeant that if he wanted “to get to France in a hurry, then join the ambulance service.” He chauffeured dignitaries around Britain before convincing his superiors to send him to France. Although he never saw combat, Buckles told George Will in 2007 that he “saw the results.”
Returning home a corporal, Buckles still had a yearning for adventure. After a stint in business school he joined the White Star Line and traveled the world. He was in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded in 1941, and spent most of the next four years in POW camps. When his camp was finally liberated in 1945, he weighed less than 90 pounds.
“There was no mercy as far as the Japanese were concerned,” said Buckles.
After the Great War, he settled down and married, raising cattle in West Virginia. A vocal advocate for a national World War I memorial in Washington, D.C., Buckles told a Senate panel that it would be “an excellent idea.” In 1999, he received the French Legion of Honor from then-President Jacques Chirac.
When asked by the Associated Press if we he would do it all again, Buckles answered, “without a doubt.”
Frank Buckles was 110.