From the diaries by Bill S.
Update from Erick: The U.S. Naval Institute has more here.
Frank Buckles, the last of the 4,734,991 Americans who served in World War I, has passed away. When you think of most kids today, his story is just staggering.
He was born on a Missouri farm when William McKinley was President. When the US entered WWI in April 1917, he had turned 16 barely two months earlier, but was determined to enlist.
After being rejected by Marine and Navy recruiters, Buckles tried the Army. When the recruiter asked to see his birth certificate, Buckles said Missouri didn’t keep birth records when he was born and the only record was what was written in the family Bible.
That was good enough for the Army and he enlisted that August at age 16-1/2. He said a sergeant told him, “If you want to get to France in a hurry, then join the ambulance service.” He did that and was on his way to England by that December. He wanted to get closer to the fighting and was eventually sent to France, then after the war ended he helped bring POWs back to Germany.
After leaving the Army as a Corporal, he ended up getting a job with a shipping company and traveling all over the world. As luck would have it, he was in Manila when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor a few hours before bombing and invading the Philippines. He ended up in Japanese POW camps until 1945 when his was liberated.
He got married several years later and moved to a farm in West Virginia, where he still drove his own car and tractor until he was 102. His wife died in 1999, the same year he was awarded the French Legion of Honor.
In 2008 he became the oldest surviving WWI vet, which of course got him some attention in Washington (including a visit to the White House with George W. Bush) and beyond. George Will wrote a nice column about him. Not everything in WV is named after Robert C. Byrd – then-Gov Joe Manchin named a section of WV Route 9 in his honor at the time.
RIP Corporal Buckles!