Frank Buckles enlisted for World War I at 16 after lying about his age. He made it home again and ultimately became that war’s last surviving U.S. veteran, campaigning for greater recognition for his comrades-in-arms before dying at 110.
Buckles, who also survived being a civilian POW in the Philippines in World War II, died of natural causes Sunday at his home in Charles Town, biographer and family spokesman David DeJonge said. He was 110.
Buckles had been advocating for a national memorial honoring veterans of the Great War in the nation’s capital and asked about its progress weekly, sometimes daily.
“He was sad it’s not completed,” DeJonge said Monday. “It’s a simple straightforward thing to do, to honor Americans.”
When asked in February 2008 how it felt to be the last of his kind, he said simply, “I realized that somebody had to be, and it was me.” And he told The Associated Press he would have done it all over again, “without a doubt.”
On Nov. 11, 2008, the 90th anniversary of the end of the war, Buckles attended a ceremony at the grave of World War I Gen. John Pershing in Arlington National Cemetery.
He was back in Washington a year later to endorse a proposal to rededicate the existing World War I memorial on the National Mall as the official National World War I Memorial. He told a Senate panel it was “an excellent idea.” The memorial was originally built to honor District of Columbia’s war dead.
Born in Missouri in 1901 and raised in Oklahoma, Buckles visited a string of military recruiters after the United States entered the “war to end all wars” in April 1917. He was repeatedly rejected before convincing an Army captain he was 18. He was actually 16 1/2.
“A boy of (that age), he’s not afraid of anything. He wants to get in there,” Buckles said.
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Statement by the President on the Passing of Frank W. Buckles
Michelle and I were inspired by the service and life story of former Army Corporal Frank W. Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I and the oldest known World War I era veteran in the world, who passed away yesterday at the age of 110. A decorated soldier in the Great War, he also survived more than three years in Japanese prisoner of war camps during the Second World War.
Frank Buckles lived the American Century. Like so many veterans, he returned home, continued his education, began a career, and along with his late wife Audrey, raised their daughter Susannah. And just as Frank continued to serve America until his passing, as the Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation, our nation has a sacred obligation to always serve our veterans and their families as well as they’ve served us. We join Susannah and all those who knew and loved her father in celebrating a remarkable life that reminds us of the true meaning of patriotism and our obligations to each other as Americans.