Today we are deviating from our traditional articles to honor the last US Veteran from World War I. Frank Buckles, like many young men at the time, lied about his age in order to enlist. Being only 16, he was refused at the Navy and Marine offices, but swore to his age convincingly enough at the Army office, they let him in.
Over the last century, Mr. Buckles experienced a combination of events that anyone will be very hard pressed to every replicate. Born in 1901, a time before many states required birth certificates, Mr. Buckles enlisted only 16 years later, hotly pursuing adventure, like any teenage boy. Enroute to Europe Mr. Buckles happened to have passage on a boat which employed sailors who had been at the rescue of the Titanic only a handful of years earlier.
After surviving World War I, and the concurrent Spanish Influenza pandemic, Mr. Buckles weathered out the Great Depression aboard a ship, serving as a purser, which is an officer aboard a ship that keeps the accounts and sees to the welfare of any passengers.
Mr. Buckles watched the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, including the infamous race which enraged Hitler because Jesse Owens, an athlete not of Hitler’s eugenic Aryan race, won a gold medal.
Then, during World War II, while working in the Philippines for a shipping company, Mr. Buckles was captured along with other civilians and help in a prison camp by the Japanese military. It wasn’t until a U.S. Military mission over three years later that Mr. Buckles would be free from captivity, having amazingly survived starvation and disease.
Upon returning to the States, a relatively “normal” life commenced for Mr. Buckles, including marriage and a single daughter. Until 2008, Mr. Buckles was largely unknown for his lifetime’s experiences. In 2008 though, another WWI veteran died and the VA reported that Mr. Buckles was the last living US WWI veteran. Once this news became public, a large base of interest and adoration developed for Mr. Buckles and the wealth of history which he embodied.
From a time in history preceding the Titanic to smart phones and facebook (which Mr. Buckles reportedly had), there may never be another century in history where a single person is able to participate and experience such a wide range of events.
This article is in honor of Mr. Buckles’ life, as well as the lives of all those veterans who have died in war, thereby surrendering their chance at living such a full and experience rich life. Thank you, all, for your service.