When Army Corporal Frank Buckles returned from World War I in 1920, he was just another face in the crowd. Nobody stopped him to talk. He gave no interviews. He wasn’t invited to ride in any parades. He received no honors nor fanfare. In the icy cold of the January morning he simply stepped off the transport ship and slipped back into the quiet of civilian life.
What a difference 91 years can make.
Frank Buckles was laid to rest with full military honors yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, the last surviving veteran of the “War to end all Wars.”
He was 110.
That someone lives to be 110 is newsworthy enough, but to be the last of a class of two million is certainly deserving of special note. Still, the sum total of Mr. Buckles’ life shouldn’t be reduced to a dry historical footnote or a quirky trivia question for Jeopardy!
The life of Frank Buckles is representative of a remarkable generation. The women and men of WWI were conscientious and patriotic. They were also adventurous, even a bit romantic, when it came to the world and its wonder. Piqued by his wartime experiences abroad, Buckles, a Missouri farm boy, pursued a career in the steamship business and traveled the globe following his service. He was working in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded at the start of WWII. He was captured and transported to a POW camp where he lost 50 pounds before being liberated.
Mr. Buckles eventually married, had a daughter and ran a 330-acre cattle farm in West Virginia.
He rode his tractor until he was 106.
What a life!
War is a brutal and horrible thing, but I find it interesting that Mr. Buckles’ clearest memories of his time in uniform revolve not around great battles or triumph. Instead, he was most moved by meeting the small humanitarian needs of the most innocent people caught up in the war. As an Army ambulance driver in France, he often spoke of his time feeding the starving little French children.
It is easy to allow World War I to be dwarfed in memory by World War II, although many historians today believe both were connected and actually one and the same, with only a break in the middle. Regardless, we’d be wise to never forget the sacrifices and blood shed on our behalf.
“The best thing to honor our veterans,” Buckles once said, “is to stand behind them from the beginning of their military lives to the very end of their lives.”
And so, a hale and hearty farewell and thanks to not only Frank Buckles, but to an entire generation of courageous and brave American men and women.
WORLD WAR I FACTS
- 36 Countries involved in fighting
- 65 million soldiers served.
- 4.7 million U.S. veterans of war.
- 2 million U.S. troops sent overseas
- 25,000 American women who served overseas
- 53,402 Americans killed in action
- 63,114 Americans died of disease and other causes
- 1 Out of three French men age 13-30 died
- 3.5 million Estimated prisoners of war by 1917
Source: National World War I Museum, Congressional Research Service
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