Almost 5 million members of the U.S. Military served in World War I, and Frank W. Buckles was the last one alive. He died at home on his West Virginia farm at the age of 110. His daughter Susannah Buckles Flanagan survives him.
He enlisted in the army at the age of 16 on August 14, 1917. His unit shipped out in December. Even in his transport to the war, he brushed history. They sailed to England on the British liner the Carpathia. Five years earlier, that ship and crew were the first to reach survivors of the Titanic, and the crewmen shared many stories with Buckles.
Buckles served among support troops in France, with duties that included driving with the U.S. military ambulance corps. He also helped repatriate many German prisoners of war after the conflict.
After the war he worked for shipping companies including the White Star Line. While he was on business in Manila in 1941, the Japanese tossed him into their prison camps. He was held for a little over three years before being rescued from notorious Los Banos.
After the rescue, he settled down and married his wife Audrey in 1946. She died at the age of 78 in 1999. They lived on their 330-acre farm in West Virginia.
In recent years, Buckles had spoken out in support of the World War I Memorial on the Mall in D.C. It was dedicated to the 499 soldiers from D.C. who gave their lives in the war. The Memorial is in need of repairs. Buckles appeared in front of Congress to ask for funds and to rededicate it as a National Memorial to World War I veterans. No such memorial currently exists in the Capital.
Frank W. Buckles’ dream was to be buried at the Arlington National Cemetery with a white marble headstone. By Arlington protocol, this can only happen if the veteran was wounded or received a medal for bravery. However, in 2008, the Bush administration made an exception for Buckles.
Buckles’ death marks the end of a generation of heros who fought in Europe and the Pacific for their country. We should remember their bravery and make sure our children understand their sacrifices.