Editor’s Note: With Veterans Day being celebrated this past Tuesday, county veteran Lowell Wayne Sullivan brought to Vevay Newspapers the following article that appeared in November/December issue of “DAV” magazine.
The article is about Frank Buckles of West Virginia, who at 107-years old is believed to be the last remaining veteran of World War I.
Vevay Newspapers proudly shares this article with our readers.
By Thom Wilborn
Veterans Day is a part of Frank Buckles’ personal story. For the last known veteran of World War I, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is a reminder of the wartime service and the sacrifice of his fellow Americans.
“I knew that I would be among those who are the last,” he said. “But I never realized I would be the one.”
“I feel that I’m very much alone,” said Frank Buckles. “But I knew that someone would have to be in that position, and it happened to be me.”
“Frank Buckles is a part of our nation’s treasured history,” said National Commander Raymond E. Dempsey. “He served in France and Germany, seeing the true cost of war and the disability it brings.”
Raised on a farm near Bethany, Missouri, the adventurous Frank Buckles was 16 when he enlisted in the Army, telling recruiters he was 21. In 1918 he was trained as an ambulance driver and shipped out to southwest France, via Great Britain in time to experience the closing days of the War to End all Wars.
There he met the American soldiers disabled by the battles that had raged for five years.
Today, at 107 years old, he lives on a 330-acre farm in West Virginia, granting interviews and enjoying life.
“It’s a working farm,” said Frank Buckles, “and until a few years ago, I was doing most of the work myself.”
As a young man, Frank Buckles dreamed of the world beyond the family farm on Big Creek in Missouri.
“I always wanted to see something on the other side,” he said.
At first, he dreamed of becoming a peddler enjoying the adventures of travel.
“I enlisted in the United States regular Army on August 14th, 1917, at Fort Logan, Colorado,” he said. “I convinced the captain that my [birth] records were in the family Bible, and he said ‘all right, we’ll take you.”
“I was thinking what an adventure this was, and I should participate,” said Frank Buckles. “I just wanted to get to France in a hurry.”
Advised to join the Ambulance Corps to get to France quicker, he soon volunteered to serve in the trenches retrieving wounded soldiers from the horrific battlefield. Following his training, he was shipped to Glasgow, Scotland, in December 1917 for more training before serving at the front.
“The British and French soldiers told us how to get someone who was wounded,” he said. “They told us how to get out of the trench, crawl on your belly to the wounded, how to take your belt and put it around his arm and roll him over and put him on your back so you could crawl back to the trench with him. We practiced continuously until we became quite expert at it.”
After several months in England, Frank Buckles got to France by serving as an escort to a Signal Corps officer heading across the English Channel. In France, he served in several posts, but never at the front.
Frank Buckles never saw the battles, but could hear the guns.
“You had the feeling in France that you were close to the battles because they weren’t too far away,” he said.
Frank Buckles witnessed the devastating injuries suffered by soldiers who charged machine guns while artillery rained down.
“The machine guns could slaughter a whole lot of men,” he said.
And after the war, he escorted enemy prisoner of war back to their native Germany. He saw hardships suffered by the civilians.
“After I washed my eating utensils, I’d go fill it up and take it to the children,” he said. “They’d eat it right up.”
Frank Buckles said America’s entry in the war had a tremendous psychological effect on the Germans.
“That was very helpful to us,” he said, “and the psychological effect it had on the French and the British. Many of their regiments had been reduced by the severe losses in the war. Now they were happy to have us there.”
“If America had not entered the war, the allies would have lost,” said Frank Buckles.
When the war finally ended with the Armistice, Frank Buckles said a feeling of peace settled over war-torn Europe.
“It felt that there was a feeling of relief that there was an Armistice,” he said. “That meant that many of those men would not be going back to the front where their chances of survival were pretty slim. It was a sad business.”
“I saw a lot of sadness around me,” said Frank Buckles. “Of course the saddest thing about World War I was after the war, not during the war. When I came back I had nobody to talk to. I had many good stories and experiences, but nobody seemed to care. It was a peculiar feeling. I think it was pretty bad for the soldiers of World War I.”
Our nation remembered the courage and sacrifice of the veterans of World War I with the first Armistice Day commemoration on November 11th, 1919. It didn’t become a national holiday until 1938.
In 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor veterans of all wars. This year will mark the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day and the end of World War I.
“Soldiers from World War I went back to their former lives after the war was over,” said Frank Buckles. “They didn’t expect anything.”
But then, Frank Buckles said, he read about a group of disabled veterans who founded a new organization in 1920, the Disabled American Veterans of the World War.
“I’m very sympathetic to the DAV, and I’ve been contributing to them for many years,” he said.
Fate and Frank Buckles’ wanderlust again led him to war.
While working for an American shipping line, he was in the Philippines when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. In Manila, he gave up a chance to evacuate the islands and went to Army headquarters to enlist.
Instead, he was told to wait.
In early 1942, he was taken into custody by enemy forces to spend three years in a prison camp.
Frank Buckles spent much of his life at sea before purchasing his farm in 1954, wandering the world fulfilling his adventuresome spirit.
Now he’s the last man standing from the 4.7 million American men and women who served in World War I.
“The chapter about the history of the men and women who served our nation in the Great War still lives,” said National Commander Dempsey. “Frank Buckles is the last in the long line of men like our founder Robert Marx, who captured the furthermost point taken by the American Army before the Armistice.”
The War to End All Wars wasn’t, and the contributions of Robert Marx and others like him have created a legacy for all of our nation’s veterans.
“The DAV exists to serve veterans like Frank Buckles, and all those who came after him,” said Commander Dempsey. “His service and the service of millions more is why we mark Veterans Day. And it is comforting to know that the DAV will be of service to them until the last veteran dies.”
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