Frank Buckles, the last living World War I Doughboy, died early Sunday morning at the age of 110. Born on February 1, 1901 in Bethany, Missouri, Buckles’ life spanned one of the most turbulent, exciting, and eventful times in history. A resident of Charles Town, West Virginia where American Public University System (APUS) is headquartered, Buckles was well-known within the local community as well as nationally.
At the age of 17, only a year after the United States entered World War I, Buckles lied about his age and joined the US Army. Buckles volunteered as an ambulance driver and was sent to France where he found the suffering of the French people disturbing. In a 2001 interview for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, Buckles said, “’The little French children were hungry….To me, that was a pretty sad sight,’” demonstrating his compassion for those living in the midst of the Great War. During his time in France, he also escorted German prisoners of war back to their homeland after the signing of the Armistice.
After the war, Buckles held various positions with shipping and steamship companies and was assigned to locations throughout the world. During World War II, he was working as a civilian in Manila and was captured by the Japanese and held for 39 months in a prisoner of war camp. In the mid-1950s, Buckles settled in Charles Town, West Virginia where he owned and ran a cattle farm. Buckles remained quite active until his death. Aside from maintaining his farm (he continued to drive his tractor until the age of 106), he advocated for a suitable memorial in Washington, DC to commemorate the sacrifices of those with whom he served in World War I.
In March 2008, Buckles visited the nation’s capital and was disturbed by the condition in which he found the World War I memorial. The monument was dedicated in 1931 as a memorial to the 499 residents of the District of Columbia who gave their lives during World War I. At the time of Buckles’ visit, no national memorial was in place for all World War I veterans. Buckles made it his personal mission to change this. After gaining the support of Senators John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), Jim Webb (D-VA), and John Thune (D-SD), Buckles testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks in December 2009 in support of Senate Bill 2097, the Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act. The act was passed and work began at a furious rate in hopes of completing the restoration project before Buckles’ death (Buckles was 108 when the bill was passed).
Though the restoration continues and Buckles will not be able to see the product of his work to memorialize the efforts of World War I veterans, his efforts will not soon be forgotten by the descendents of those who served in The Great War. Frank Buckles lived a long and remarkable life. Even as he approached 100 years old, he continued to make public appearances in an attempt to keep the memory of those who sacrificed everything during World War I alive in the minds of a generation who may otherwise never have a firsthand account of that time. To read about Frank Buckles’ life in his own words, visit his website. Frank Buckles was a humble man, typical of many who risked their lives or sacrificed their lives to enhance our freedoms. We will try to do our part to follow his initiatives to recognize the veterans of World War I.