A Brief History
On February 27, 2011, Frank Buckles died at 110 years old, just one of the many fascinating things about his life!
Digging deeper, we find our hero born in 1901 in Missouri into a family of farmers that already had a history of service to the country in the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
When the U.S. entered World War I, Frank was eager to join the action and went to the nearest Marine Corps recruiting station where he was sent away for being too small. His 2nd choice, the Navy turned him away for flat feet! The Army, however, saw the error of its sister services and enlisted young Frank, only 16 years old. Eager to get to the front lines, he was told the surest way to make that happen would be to apply as an ambulance driver, which he did. Buckles’ brushes with history just kept coming as he was shipped to Europe on the Carpathia, the ship that rescued the Titanic’s survivors.
Oddly enough, Mr. Buckles received a gift from a German prisoner of war (POW) while on duty returning POWs to Germany, a belt buckle! Too bad his name wasn’t Rolls-Royce or something!
Frank worked for several shipping firms and sailed all over the world, finding himself in the Philippines when World War II came to America’s door. With patriotic blood flowing through his veins, he stayed there, in harm’s way, working to supply U.S. forces and was captured by the Japanese. Frank spent the rest of the war as a prisoner, but he worked hard to keep his fellow prisoners healthy, leading exercises and growing a garden to feed the others.
This remarkable man had learned several European languages on his voyages and port calls and now learned some Japanese, too. After the war he married and moved to West Virginia, where he farmed all the way to age 105! His wife had died when he was 98.
Buckles became the last living American veteran of World War I in 2008, and as such, was somewhat of a celebrity, visiting wounded troops, appearing on television and working toward establishing a national World War I memorial. Incredibly, Frank became the oldest person to testify before Congress when he appeared on behalf of creating the World War I memorial at age 108!
Buckles died in 2011 at age 110, the second oldest man in the United States and the last veteran of World War I in the world who had actually been in field service. The last of the two non-field veterans died in 2012, and that chapter of history is now closed. President Obama ordered government buildings’ flags to be flown at half-mast in honor of Buckles, another of the many notable, even cracked, things about his life. Sadly, another cracked angle to this story is that the World War I memorial is still not built, a victim of political wrangling.
When asked about his longevity and how one could live so long, Buckles gave some wise advice that we would encourage you to follow, “When you start to die, don’t!” Question for students (and subscribers): What wise advice would you encourage us to follow? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information on World War I, please see…
Massie, Robert K. and Barbara W. Tuchman. The Guns of August: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic About the Outbreak of World War I. Presidio Press, 2004.
Trumbo, Dalton. Johnny Got His Gun. Shout Factory, 2009. DVD.