America’s last living World War I veteran turns 110 years old today. Frank Buckles,was born in Bethany, Missouri, on February 1, 1901.
He enlisted in the United States Army at the beginning of America’s
involvement in World War I in April 1917. Only 16 years old at the time,
Buckles was asked by his recruiter to show a birth certificate. Later
Buckles said of that event:
In 1917, Buckles was sent to Europe on the RMS Carpathia, which had rescued RMS Titanic survivors five years earlier. While on the Carpathia, Buckles spoke with crewmembers who had taken part in the rescue of Titanic survivors. During the war Buckles served in England and France, driving ambulances and motorcycles for the Army’s 1st Fort Riley Casual Detachment. After the Armistice in 1918, Buckles escorted prisoners of war back to Germany. Following his discharge in 1919, he attended the dedication of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, in honor of those Americans who died in World War I. While there, he met General John Pershing, commander of all United States forces in France during the war.
In the 1940s Buckles worked for a shipping company in Manila, Philippines. He was captured by the Japanese in 1942, and spent the next three and a half years in the Los Baños prison camp. He became malnourished, with a weight below 100 lb, and developed beriberi, yet led his fellow inmates in calisthenics. He was rescued on February 23, 1945.
Buckles has said that when he dies, he will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was eligible for cremation and placement in a columbarium at Arlington,
but expressed a desire for burial there, which he was not eligible for
under current Arlington policy, which requires a veteran to have a Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, or have been killed in action. Friends and family members took up his cause, but made no headway until a relative, Ken Buckles, contacted Ross Perot, whom Frank had met at a history seminar in 2001. Within two weeks, Perot had successfully intervened with the White House, and on March 19, 2008, Buckles received special approval for underground burial at Arlington.
The French and the British will send delegates to his funeral. The
French plan to send a Defence Ministry official and hope to send two
honor guards and pallbearers. The British will send the air-vice marshal
and possibly the British Ambassador.
Buckles is the Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation, which seeks refurbishment of the District of Columbia War Memorial and its establishment as the National World War I Memorial on the National Mall. Buckles appeared before Congress on December 3, 2009, advocating on behalf of such legislation. On February 1, 2010, on Buckles’s 109th birthday, his official
biographer announced that he will be completing a film—currently in
production—on Buckles’s life. The film is a cumulative work of three
years of interviews and intimate moments gathered by DeJonge as he
traveled the nation with Buckles