WASHINGTON — Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last surviving American World War I veteran, died yesterday (Feb. 27, 2011) at his West Virginia home. He was 110.
Sixteen-year-old Buckles enlisted in the Army on Aug. 14, 1917 after lying to several recruiters about his age.
“I was just 16 and didn’t look a day older. I confess to you that I lied to more than one recruiter. I gave them my solemn word that I was 18, but I’d left my birth certificate back home in the family Bible. They’d take one look at me and laugh and tell me to home before my mother noticed I was gone,” Buckles wrote in 2009.
|Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, left, talks with Frank Buckles, the last living American World War I veteran, during a Pentagon ceremony March 6, 2008. Buckles died Feb. 27, 2011 at age 110.
DOD photo by R. D. Ward
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Buckles tried the Marines and Navy, but both turned him away. An Army recruiter, however, accepted his story.
“Somehow I got the idea that telling an even bigger whopper was the way to go. So I told the next recruiter that I was 21 and darned if he didn’t sign me up on the spot!” he wrote.
Buckles earned the rank of corporal and traveled England and France serving as an ambulance driver. After the Armistice in 1918, Buckles escorted prisoners of war back to Germany. He was discharged in 1920.
In 1942 Buckles worked as a civilian for a shipping company in the Philippines, where he was captured in Manila by the Japanese the day after they attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He spent three and a half years in the Los Baños prison camp. He was rescued on February 23, 1945.
Buckles married Audrey Mayo of Pleasanton, Calif., in 1946. The couple moved to his Gap View Farm near Charles Town in January 1954 where Buckles reportedly continued to drive his tractor until he was 106.
On February 4, 2008, with the death of 108-year-old Harry Richard Landis, Buckles became the last surviving American World War I veteran. Since, Buckles championed veterans’ causes, was invited to the White House and honored at the Pentagon.
In March 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates honored Buckles during a Pentagon ceremony in which officials unveiled a World War I veterans’ exhibit.
“Whoever views this display will, I am sure, feel a connection to Mr. Buckles and his comrades-in-arms,” Gates said. “We will always be grateful for what they did for their country 90 years ago.”
Buckles, then 107, received a standing ovation from the mostly military audience.
“I feel honored to be here as a representative of the veterans of WWI and I thank you,” Buckles said.
Buckles is survived by his daughter, Susannah Buckles Flanagan. His wife, Audrey, died in 1999.
In a White House statement issued today President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama saluted the fallen veteran.
“Frank Buckles lived the American Century,” the President stated. “Like so many veterans, he returned home, continued his education, began a career, and along with his late wife Audrey, raised their daughter Susannah. And just as Frank continued to serve America until his passing, as the Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation, our nation has a sacred obligation to always serve our veterans and their families as well as they’ve served us.
“We join Susannah and all those who knew and loved her father in celebrating a remarkable life that reminds us of the true meaning of patriotism and our obligations to each other as Americans.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
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