Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Death of Pershing’s Last Patriot

Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of WWI died this week at the age of 110. Mr Buckles was born in Missouri in 1901 and was raised in Oklahoma. He was rejected numerous times by military recruiters for being under-aged, until he finally convinced an Army captain that he was 18, and joined the military at the age of 16. Despite his efforts however, Mr Buckles never got to see combat. Nevertheless, his family obtained an exception to government rules, and plans are to bury him at Arlington National Cemetery. The latter years of his life were spent advocating for a national monument to honor veterans of the Great War.

As reported in The Marine Times:

Buckles, who also survived being a civilian POW in the Philippines in World War II, died of natural causes Sunday at his home in Charles Town, biographer and family spokesman David DeJonge said. He was 110. Buckles would have wanted people to remember him as “the last torchbearer” for World War I, DeJonge said Monday.

Buckles had been advocating for a national memorial honoring veterans of the Great War in the nation’s capital and asked about its progress weekly, sometimes daily. “He was sad it’s not completed,” DeJonge said. “It’s a simple straightforward thing to do, to honor Americans.”

On Nov. 11, 2008, the 90th anniversary of the end of the war, Buckles attended a ceremony at the grave of World War I Gen. John Pershing in Arlington National Cemetery. He was back in Washington a year later to endorse a proposal to rededicate the existing World War I memorial on the National Mall as the official National World War I Memorial. He told a Senate panel it was “an excellent idea.” The memorial was originally built to honor District of Columbia’s war dead.

More than 4.7 million people joined the U.S. military from 1917-18. As of spring 2007, only three were still alive, according to a tally by the Department of Veterans Affairs: Buckles, J. Russell Coffey of Ohio and Harry Richard Landis of Florida. The dwindling roster prompted a flurry of public interest, and Buckles went to Washington in May 2007 to serve as grand marshal of the national Memorial Day parade. Coffey died Dec. 20, 2007, at age 109, while Landis died Feb. 4, 2008, at 108. Unlike Buckles, those two men were still in basic training in the United States when the war ended and did not make it overseas. The last known Canadian veteran of the war, John Babcock of Spokane, Wash., died in February 2010. There are no French or German veterans of the war left alive.

Buckles served in England and France, working mainly as a driver and a warehouse clerk. An eager student of culture and language, he used his off-duty hours to learn German, visit cathedrals, museums and tombs, and bicycle in the French countryside. After Armistice Day, Buckles helped return prisoners of war to Germany. He returned to the United States in January 1920.

In 1941, while on business in the Philippines, Buckles was captured by the Japanese. He spent more than three years in prison camps. “I was never actually looking for adventure,” Buckles once said. “It just came to me.”

In spring 2007, Buckles told the AP of the trouble he went through to get into the military. “I went to the state fair up in Wichita, Kansas, and while there, went to the recruiting station for the Marine Corps,” he said. “The nice Marine sergeant said I was too young when I gave my age as 18, said I had to be 21.” Buckles returned a week later. “I went back to the recruiting sergeant, and this time I was 21,” he said with a grin. “I passed the inspection ... but he told me I just wasn’t heavy enough.” Then he tried the Navy, whose recruiter told Buckles he was flat-footed.

Buckles wouldn’t quit. In Oklahoma City, an Army captain demanded a birth certificate. “I told him birth certificates were not made in Missouri when I was born, that the record was in a family Bible. I said, ‘You don’t want me to bring the family Bible down, do you?’” Buckles said with a laugh. “He said, ‘OK, we’ll take you.’” He enlisted Aug. 14, 1917, serial number 15577.

During the trip to attend the ceremony for Gen Pershing in 2008, Mr Buckles noticed memorials for WWII, Korean, and Vietnam veterans, but nothing for the heroes of WWI. David DeJonge became the president of the The World War I Memorial Foundation and made Mr Buckles the honorary chairman.

Bills regarding the WWI Memorial have been introduced in both the US House and Senate, yet neither has passed to date. During a time when Congress can find time to pass tax-payer funded memorials such as an almost $70 million dollar shrine to Ted Kennedy, a $150 million plus airport memorial that services about 20 people per day for John Murtha, and numerous other wasteful projects, it is downright shameful that our legislators can’t establish a memorial to our true heroes that is being paid for primarily by private funds.

Finally, we’d like to say to Mr Buckles and the countless other veterans who have made, and continue to make, great sacrifices in order to serve our country even though their efforts often go unnoticed or taken for granted, “Thank You and God Bless”.


  1. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Buckles, his lovely daughter, as well as, Mr Dejong. Great work by all three of them. No doubt Mr Buckles was more intelligent, more cultured and smarter than most in the capital.
    I'm a Veteran, and still in, but when I am in the presence of a WW II Veteran I be quiet and listen. It maybe time our law makers listen. Maybe its time America speaks up.

  2. Russ. Thanks very much for your comment. A couple of generations ago, the majority of our lawmakers were veterans. Now, I think only about a fourth have ever served; and it certainly is evident in their changing attitudes (for the worse) toward our brave troops. God bless you and thank you for your service to our country.


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