The last doughboy: The life and times of Frank Buckles

World War I veteran Frank Buckles reminisces about the war at his home in Charles Town, West Virginia, May 22, 2007. The last known living American veteran of World War I died Sunday, February 27, 2011, at 110. (Pete Souza/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

By: Logan Pierce, assignment editor

“He wanted to serve his nation. He was young and looking for adventure.”

“He never said it was difficult. War forged character in him.”

In 1917 he sailed over to Europe on the Carpathia, the ocean liner responsible for rescuing survivors of the Titanic five years earlier.

“He went from riding a horse to school to driving ambulances through England, France and Germany.”

“When he told his grandmother that he enlisted, she told him about his uncle that had served in the Revolutionary War.”

One of his fondest memories from his service in WWI occurred while escorting the German POW’s. Several of them had instruments, and would perform concerts for the Americans. Buckles remembers them as being friendly people.

Returning home a corporal, Buckles attended a business school in Oklahoma City for several months. While in Oklahoma, Frank Buckles met one of his heroes, General Pershing, in 1921. Working for a shipping company, over in Manila, Philippines. On Dec. 8, 1941 [day after Pearl Harbor], the Japanese captured him. For the next 39 months, Frank Buckles was a civilian POW. He went in weighing 140 pounds, but as Japan began losing the war, food became in short supply. By the time his camp was liberated in 1945, he had lost 50 pounds.

After surviving a Second World War, Buckles decided it was time to settle down. On a West Virginia farm, he lived quite contentedly, with his wife and daughter. He rode his own tractor until he turned 100 and his age began to catch up with him.

Of all the technological advancements Buckles has witnessed over a century, the ones he appreciates the most are radio and television.

What Buckles loved best about America was freedom. His ancestors came over from Europe in the 1600’s.

“Education is the most critical pursuit in life. Never stop learning and always do the best that you can.”

According to Buckles, the most negative change in America has been the transformation of patriotism.  “During World War I and World War II, we were all united. Todays politics is polarized.”

“The most important thing in life is to keep your word.”

Buckles regrets that it’s taken so long for the soldiers of World War I to receive the recognition they deserve.

In spite of difficulties, Frank Buckles always tried to keep a positive outlook on life. He attributes his longevity to “always looking forward to living the next day.”

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