In case you missed the story, a 108 year old man by the name of Harry Richard Landis died on Monday, Feb 4th and with his passing another man, Frank Woodruff Buckles, earned the truly incredible distinction of being the last known surviving American-born veteran of the First World War. Of the 4,734,991 U.S. forces mobilized between 1914 and 1918 Frank Buckles is the last man standing.
Quote: “Only 16, he walked into a Marine Corps recruiting office in Wichita and said he was 18. The recruiter didn’t believe him and sent him away. The Navy rejected Buckles as flat-footed. Finally, an Army recruiter in Oklahoma City accepted him, but only after Buckles insisted that the only proof of his age was in a family Bible back in Missouri. The state didn’t issue birth certificates in those days.
“I liked the Army right off,” says Buckles, recalling how he enjoyed calisthenics.
He was in a hurry to get to the front. A sergeant told him to join the ambulance corps because the French, America’s ally, were “begging for ambulances.” At Fort Riley, Kan., he learned how to use his belt to cinch a wounded soldier to his back and carry him from a trench.
He eventually got to France, but never close enough to the action to pull anyone from a trench.” —Andrea Stone, USA TODAY.
Quote: “After the armistice, he was assigned to guard German prisoners waiting to be repatriated. Seeing that he was still just a boy, the prisoners adopted him, taught him their language, gave him food from their Red Cross packages, bits of their uniforms to take home as souvenirs.
In the 1930s, while working for a steamship company, Mr. Buckles visited Germany; it was difficult for him to reconcile his fond memories of those old P.O.W.’s with what he saw of life under the Third Reich. The steamship company later sent him to run its office in Manila; he was there in January 1942 when the Japanese occupied the city and took him prisoner.” —Richard Rubin, NY TIMES.
He remained a P.O.W. himself for over 3 years. A strange symmetry there certainly.
How does Buckles feel about the quirk of circumstance which has left him, as the last American survivor of the Great War, a name for the history books?
Quote: “Someone has to do it.”
The Veteran’s History Project at the Library of Congress has a section devoted to Buckles which you might check out if your interested including a 148 minute video interview.