America’s last living link with World War I is gone. Frank Buckles, the oldest remaining U.S. veteran of the Great War, died yesterday at age 110. Buckles was one of only three remaining veterans of WWI throughout the world.
Buckles, born in 1901, enlisted with the U.S. Army in August 1917 after being turned down by the Marine Corps and the Navy. He was only 16 years old but, like many of his era, lied about his age in order to serve his country. In fact, after being rejected by recruiters in his native Kansas, Buckles traveled to Oklahoma City and kept at it until the Army agreed to take him. He was one of more than 4.7 million Americans to sail to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Forces.
Buckles joined the First Fort Riley Casual Detachment and shipped out for England in December 1917, but his unit was held in reserve. Desperate to join the fighting in France, Buckles looked for any opportunity to see some action. He spent six months driving transport motorcycles and ambulances before finally finding his way to France in the summer of 1918.
Much to his chagrin, Buckles spent the remainder of the war away from the front lines, in Bordeaux, France. He was still there when the Allies signed an armistice agreement with Germany on November 11. Buckles’ unit was assigned to transport several hundred POWs back to Germany, and in January 1920 he returned to the United States and mustered out of the Army.
Buckles worked a variety of jobs after the war, and was employed with an American shipping company in their Manila, Philippines office when it was invaded by the Japanese in December 1941. Buckles was taken prisoner by the Japanese (either in December or the next month, depending on what you read) and spent more than three years in Los Baños prison camp. His weight dropped to under 100 lbs. and developed a condition called beriberi. Buckles and the other inmates of Los Baños were liberated by the U.S. Army’s 11th Airborne Division on February 23, 1945.
For his World War I service, Buckles was awarded the World War I Victory Medal, the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal, and qualified for four Overseas Service Bars. He was also awarded France’s Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honor) by French president Jacques Chirac.
Photographer David DeJonge has spent the last four years documenting Buckles’ life and interviewing him for a future documentary film project to be called Pershing’s Last Patriot. DeJonge is requesting donations for his project through the crowdsourcing site Kickstarter. If you can donate (even $1 will help!), please stop by DeJonge’s Kickstarter campaign page and help preserve America’s quickly vanishing WWI legacy.
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