February 1, 1901 – February 27, 2011)
Given an honorable discharge in 1919, Buckles continued to serve with the New York National Guard from 1922 to 1923. During World War II, he spent the majority of the conflict as a civilian prisoner of war after being captured by the Japanese while working in the shipping business. Following the Second World War, Buckles married in San Francisco in 1946 and moved to Gap View Farm in Charles Town, West Virginia. His wife, Audrey, gave birth to their daughter Susannah in 1955. A widower at age 98, he worked on his farm until the age of 105.
In his last years, he was Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation, campaigning to have the District of Columbia War Memorial renamed the National World War I Memorial, including meeting with President George W. Bush and testifying to Congress. He was awarded the World War I Victory Medal at the conclusion of the First World War, and the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal retroactively after the medal was created in 1941, as well as the French Legion of Honor in his later years.
At the time of his death, Buckles was the oldest verified World War I veteran in the world and the last field veteran of the war. He was buried on March 15, 2011 at Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors and President Barack Obama in attendance.
Early life and educationBuckles was born to James C. Buckles, a farmer, and Theresa J. Buckles, in Bethany, Missouri on February 1, 1901. William McKinley, a veteran of the Civil War, was President.
Buckles had two brothers, Ashman and Roy, and two sisters, Grace and Gladys. Several family-members lived very long lives; he remembered speaking with his grandmother who was born in 1817, and his father lived to be 97.
In 1702, the first American ancestor named Buckles arrived at Philadelphia from England, and in 1732 the family settled near Charles Town, West Virginia, which was part of Virginia until the Civil War (and which was Frank Buckles' home town later in life). Seven of Buckles' ancestors were soldiers in the Revolutionary War including one of his great-grandparents, and he was also descended from a Civil War soldier.
In 1903, Frank—then known as Wood—and his brother Ashman contracted scarlet fever. Frank survived, while Ashman died from the disease, at the age of four. Between 1911 and 1916, Frank attended school in Nevada, Missouri, after which the family moved to the town of Oakwood in Dewey County, Oklahoma.
World War I and interwar years
When America entered World War I, Buckles sought to enlist in the armed forces. He was turned down by the Marine Corps because of his slight weight and for being under 21, and by the Navy, who incorrectly diagnosed him with flat feet. He was successful in enlisting in the Army in August 1917, at 16 years of age. He did not look any older than 16, but the Army was persuaded to accept that he was an adult.
Buckles enlisted on August 14, 1917 and went through basic training at Fort Riley in Kansas. Later that year, he embarked for Europe aboard the RMS Carpathia, which was being used as a troop ship. During the war, Buckles served in England and France, driving ambulances and motorcycles for the Army's 1st Fort Riley Casual Detachment. Buckles later recalled his service as a doughboy:
There was never a shortage of blown-up bodies that needed to be rushed to the nearest medical care. The British and French troops were in bad shape – even guys about my age looked old and tired. After three years of living and dying inside a dirt trench, you know the Brits and French were happy to see us "doughboys." Every last one of us Yanks believed we’d wrap this thing up in a month or two and head back home before harvest. In other words, we were the typical, cocky Americans no one wants around, until they need help winning a war.He was particularly saddened by the war's impact on children in France, and helped to alleviate their hunger by providing food. After the Armistice in 1918, Buckles escorted prisoners of war back to Germany. One German prisoner gave him a belt buckle inscribed, "Gott mit uns" (meaning God with us), which he kept as a souvenir for the rest of his life.
Buckles was promoted to Corporal on September 22, 1919. Following his honorable discharge in November 1919, he attended the dedication of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, in honor of the Americans who died in World War I, and met General of the Armies John Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during the war. As the interwar period began, Buckles attended business school in Oklahoma City, and subsequently served with the Seventh Regiment of the New York National Guard from 1922 to 1923, while he lived in New York City and worked there in financial services.
Next came a career as Chief Purser for steamship lines in South America, Europe, and Asia. In the 1930s, he listened as German and British passengers expressed fear about the Nazis, and military officers told him that Germany was equipping for war; Buckles witnessed antisemitism and its effects firsthand while ashore in Germany, and he warned acquaintances in Germany that their country would be brought down by Adolf Hitler, whom he encountered at a German hotel. Also during the 1930s, he received an Army bonus of $800, and gave it to his father who was struggling as a farmer in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.
World War II and married years
By 1942, Buckles had worked for the White Star, American President, and W.R. Grace shipping companies, and shipping business took him to Manila in the Philippines. He was captured there by the Japanese on December 8, 1941 and spent the next three years and two months in the Los Baños prison camp. He battled starvation, receiving only a small meal of mush served in a tin cup — a utensil he still had at the time of his death. With a weight below 100 pounds, Buckles developed beriberi, yet led his fellow prisoners in calisthenics. Their captors showed little mercy, but Buckles was allowed to grow a small garden, which he often used to help feed children who were imprisoned with him.
They were freed by Allied forces on February 23, 1945. Buckles learned some Japanese during his captivity, and was also fluent in German, Spanish, Portuguese, and French.
After World War II, he moved to San Francisco, and married Audrey Mayo in 1946. In January 1954, retired from steamship work, the couple bought the 330-acre (1.3 km2) Gap View Farm in West Virginia where they raised cattle. Audrey gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Susannah, in 1955. Audrey Buckles died in 1999, and their daughter moved back to the farm to care for him.
Much of Frank Buckles' military service record was lost in a fire, and the rest has been classified as a high profile record by the Military Personnel Records Center.
 Active centenarian
After the turn of the century, Buckles continued living near Charles Town, West Virginia and was still driving a tractor on his farm at age 103. He stated in an interview with The Washington Post on Veterans' Day 2007 that he believed the United States should not go to war "unless it's an emergency". When asked about the secret of his long life, Buckles replied: "Hope", adding, "When you start to die... don't". He also said the reason he had lived so long was that he "never got in a hurry". In another interview at age 110, Buckles explained the secret of long life: "Genetics, healthy eating and exercise are vital for a long life", but "the will to survive is what's most important."
Buckles' life was featured on the Memorial Day 2007 episode of NBC Nightly News. With the death of 108-year-old Harry Richard Landis in February 2008, Buckles became the last surviving American World War I veteran. Buckles said of his place in history, "I never thought I'd be the last one." The following month, he met with United States President George W. Bush at the White House. The same day, he attended the opening of a Pentagon exhibit featuring photos of nine centenarian World War I veterans arranged by historian and photographer (and later family spokesman) David DeJonge. That summer, the old veteran visited young wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Buckles was the Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation, which seeks refurbishment of the District of Columbia War Memorial and its establishment as the National World War I Memorial on the National Mall. He was named ABC's World News Tonight's "Person of the Week" on March 22, 2009 in recognition of his efforts to set up the memorial. Those efforts continued, as Buckles appeared before Congress on December 3, 2009, advocating on behalf of such legislation. He was the oldest person who ever testified before Congress. On Armistice Day (i.e. Veterans Day) of 2010, he made a further appeal:
The legislation remained in doubt, because opponents sought relocation of the proposed monument, or alternatively some benefit in return for the District of Columbia's loss of its exclusively local monument.
A lifelong Shriner, Buckles was given a plaque in December 2009 for being a "famous Shriner". He was part of the Osiris Shriners of Wheeling, West Virginia, and also a Freemason. Buckles became "the oldest Shriner in Shrinedom". Other interests of his included genealogy; he had been a member of the West Virginia Society of the Sons of the American Revolution since 1935, and was active for many years in the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
On February 1, 2010—Buckles' 109th birthday—his official biographer, David DeJonge, announced that he was completing a documentary, entitled "Pershing's Last Patriot", on Buckles' life. The film is a cumulative work of interviews and intimate moments. DeJonge estimates a 2011 release for the documentary, and actor Richard Thomas is expected to narrate the film.
In late 2010, Buckles was still giving media interviews and reached supercentenarian status upon his 110th birthday, on February 1, 2011. On February 27, 2011, Buckles died of natural causes at his home. There were then only two surviving World War I veterans in the world, Florence Green and Claude Choules, who both served in the military of Great Britain.
Honors and awards
World War I Victory Medal, and he qualified for four Overseas Service Bars. Buckles also qualified for the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal due to his post-war service in Europe during the year 1919, and received that medal retroactively after it was created in 1941. He did not qualify for the Prisoner of War Medal for his World War II incarceration, because at the time of his imprisonment by the Japanese he was a civilian. In 1999, French president Jacques Chirac awarded him France's Legion of Honour.
In 2007, the United States Library of Congress included Buckles in its Veterans History Project, which includes audio, video, and pictorial information on Buckles' experiences in both world wars, including a 148-minute video interview. In April 2008, a section of West Virginia Route 9, which passes by his Gap View Farm home, was named and dedicated in his honor by then-West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin. The following month, on May 25, 2008, Buckles received the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Gold Medal of Merit at the Liberty Memorial. He sat for a portrait taken by David DeJonge that will hang in the National World War I Museum, as "the last surviving link." The portrait was unveiled at the Pentagon in 2008, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in attendance.
Buckles received the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry's Knight Commander of the Court of Honour (KCCH) on September 24, 2008. The KCCH is the last honor bestowed by the Southern Jurisdiction prior to the thirty-third degree, the highest honor in Freemasonry. The ceremony was hosted by Ronald Seale, the Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Southern Jurisdiction.
Commemoration and funeralBuckles did not meet the criteria for burial at Arlington National Cemetery as he had never been in combat, but special permission was secured on March 19, 2008. That was accomplished with the help of Ross Perot, who had met Buckles at a history seminar in 2001, and who intervened in 2008 with the White House regarding a final resting place.
Upon Buckles' death three years later on February 27, 2011, President Barack Obama ordered that the American flag be flown at half-staff on all government buildings, U.S. embassies, and at the White House on March 15, 2011 when Buckles would be buried at Arlington. In the days leading up to Buckles' funeral, the governors of 16 states likewise called for the lowering of their states' flags to half-staff on March 15.[nb 1]
The United States Senate passed a resolution honoring Buckles as "the last veteran to represent the extraordinary legacy of the World War I veterans" on March 3, 2011. Statements were made by representatives and senators paying tribute to Buckles and the World War I veterans, and concurrent resolutions were proposed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to allow Buckles to lie in honor in the United States Capitol rotunda. The resolution, however, was reported as being blocked by the Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who sought permission instead for a ceremony to be held in the Amphitheater of Arlington National Cemetery. Various people had supported a Rotunda ceremony, including Buckles' daughter, a great-grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, and former Republican Party presidential nominee Bob Dole.
Northeast Vernon County High School in Nevada, Missouri, where Buckles went to school, held a service honoring his life and service, on March 8, 2011. Buckles' home church, Zion Episcopal Church in Charles Town, West Virginia held a memorial service on March 16, 2011 featuring the Episcopal bishop of West Virginia, the local pastor, Buckles' son-in-law, his nephew, and others.
On March 12, 2011, a ceremony was held at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, to honor Buckles and the "passing of the generation that fought World War I". The keynote speaker was retired United States Air Force general and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers. The ceremony included a reading of poems, one of which was In Flanders Fields. On March 13 and 14, 2011, a visitation was held at a Washington, D.C. funeral home.
A special ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater Chapel and interment were held on March 15; Buckles was buried with full military honors in plot 34, near his former commander, General of the Armies John J. Pershing. During the ceremony prior to burial, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden paid their respects and met with Buckles' family. Buckles' flag-draped coffin was borne to the burial plot on a caisson drawn by seven horses, and the folded flag was handed to his daughter by United States Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter W. Chiarelli. The honor guard for Buckles' funeral included five members of the Blackfeet Warrior Society of Browning, Montana. Reporter Paul Duggan of The Washington Post summed up the occasion:
The hallowed ritual at grave No. 34-581 was not a farewell to one man alone. A reverent crowd of the powerful and the ordinary — President Obama and Vice President Biden, laborers and store clerks, heads bowed — came to salute Buckles’s deceased generation, the vanished millions of soldiers and sailors he came to symbolize in the end.In Martinsburg, West Virginia, on March 26, 2011, a candlelight vigil was held in memory of Buckles. Donations were taken at the time of the vigil to pay for a planned statue of Buckles holding the reins of General Pershing's horse. The statue will be placed in his hometown of Charles Town, West Virginia. Buckles had become the oldest surviving World War I veteran in the world, as well as the last field veteran of the war.
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