Last American WWI Veteran Dies

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.

Frank Buckles, the last living American World War I veteran
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
Click to enlarge

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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