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Feb. 4, 2008 - Frank Buckles of WV Becomes Last U.S. World War I Vet
By Heath Harrison
October 20, 2013


Archive reporting: Jake Glance

On Feb. 27, 2011, America bid farewell to the last of its World War I veterans when Frank Woodruff Buckles died at the age of 110 at his Charles Town, W.Va. home.

Born in Bethany, Mo., on Feb. 1, 1901, Buckles came from a family with a history of military service, with ancestors fighting in both the American Revolution and the Civil War.

When America entered World War I, Buckles, 16, tried to enlist, but was rejected first by the Marines, who said he was too small, and then by the Navy, who said he had flat feet.

He was eventually able to sign up with the Army by telling the recruitment officer he was 21.

"I didn't lie," he once joked to CNN in an interview recalling his enlistment. "Nobody calls me a liar. I may have increased my age."

He enlisted on Aug. 14, 1917 and went through basic training before departing for Europe.

Upon arriving overseas, Buckles drove ambulances and motorcycles in England and France for the Army's 1st Fort Riley Casual Detachment. He also escorted prisoners of war back to Germany, but never saw combat. He was promoted to corporal on Sept. 22, 1919 and honorably discharged in November of that year.

After returning to the United State, he enrolled in business school in Oklahoma City and worked in shipping as a chief purser. He spent most of the Great Depression employed at sea.

After the beginning of World War II, Buckles was working in the Philippines helping to resupply U.S. troops, when he was captured by the Japanese in 1942 and forced to spend more than three years as a civilian internee under harsh conditions. He was freed by the Allies on Feb. 23, 1945.

After World War II, Buckles returned to the U.S., first living in San Francisco, then moving to West Virginia near his ancestral land in 1954.

He remained active well into his advanced age, and still drove a tractor on his land at the age of 103. His wife of 53 years passed away in 1999, and his daughter became his caretaker at the farm.

As the number Of World War I veterans worldwide dwindled, Buckles found himself sought out by the media and veterans groups. On Feb, 4, 2008, Harry Richard Landis, 108, passed away, making Buckles the last surviving U.S. veteran of the conflict.

He was invited to the White House to meet with President George W. Bush, and he took part in events at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He was named as honorary chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation and made it his mission to get a National World War I Memorial established on the National Mall.

Buckles died on Feb. 27, 2011, only a few weeks past his 110th birthday. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living West Virginian and the second oldest man in the U.S.

Buckles was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. As a non-combat soldier, he did not meet the qualifications for burial at Arlington, but special permission was obtained from the federal government to make an exception for him. President Barack Obama ordered all federal flags flown at half-staff in his honor.

West Virginia’s delegations to Congress proposed that Buckles lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol, but the plan was blocked by Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. A ceremony was instead held at Arlington’s Amphitheater Chapel on March 15, attended by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

After Buckles’ death, only two World War I veterans remained worldwide: Claude Choules, of the United Kingdom, who died on May 5, 2011. Florence Green, also of the UK, who died on Feb. 7, 2012.

This week's video, from the WCHS archives, features a Feb. 17, 2008 interview by Jake Glance with Buckles, then 107, at his farm, filmed shortly after he became the last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I

Remember When: Feb. 4, 2008 - Frank Buckles of WV Becomes Last U.S. World War I Vet

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