By Marielena Montesino de Stuart
World War I
The last American veteran of World War I has died.
Frank W. Buckles lied about his age in 1917 in order to enlist during World War I. He was only 16 years old when he joined the United States Army.
Buckles died peacefully on Sunday, February 27 in West Virginia, at the age of 110. He celebrated his last birthday on February 1.
A teenager joins the war
Buckles was part of the First Fort Riley Detachment and was sent to England in December 1917. As a teenager eager to fight in the war, he waited anxiously while his unit was held in reserve. Other units had been sent to France, to fight the Germans.
Six long months went by before this boy of 16 finally made it across the English Channel and into the theater of operations in France—where he was assigned to escort an American lieutenant, to the city of Bordeaux. He remained behind the battle lines in various assignments until November 11, 1918, when the armistice was signed. After Armistice Day he was given the task of escorting prisoners of war back to Germany. One can only imagine what it must have been like for such a young man to witness the devastation.
His service continued for two more years with the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). He returned home on the USS Pocahontas in January 1920.
World War II
World War I left many unresolved issues and resentments. The Germans were not appeased by the Treaty of Versailles, which has been a focus of debate to this day. Neither were they appeased by other treaties. Nationalistic and aggressive tensions grew, culminating in the invasion of Poland in 1939 by the Nazi Germans– and Imperial Japan was on a deadly march of expansionism and invasion of China.
The world was at war again.
World War I veterans did not receive the same honors and benefits that years later World War II veterans would receive when they came home. But Buckles did not think of entitlements. On the contrary. He had a sense of duty, and nothing could hold him back.
With his typical determination he managed to find jobs when he came home, and paid his way through business school.
He traveled extensively while working for steamship lines. In 1941, during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, Buckles was captured. He had been managing the office of the American President Lines in Manila.
He spent three-and-a-half years in Japanese prison camps at Santo Tomas and Los Banos. The horror of World War II had now entered his life. While in prison he dropped to 100 pounds, and developed beriberi, a disease caused by malnutrition– which affected him the rest of his life. In spite of his fragile health, Buckles insisted on leading his fellow prisoners in a daily class of calisthenics.
The lucky month of February
February was a lucky month for Buckles—not just because he was born on February 1, and returned to God’s embrace on February 27—but also because it was on February 23, 1945 that Buckles and the other prisoners were liberated during a raid led by the United States Army’s 11th Airborne Division.
Buckles returned to the United States, where he fell in love, got married and started a family. He enjoyed staying active at his historic farm in West Virginia—where he raised cattle and looked after his 18th century farmhouse.
He spent long hours in his study surrounded by his artifacts from World War I, including a belt buckle inscribed with “Gott Mit Uns” (“God is with Us”).
Frank W. Buckles, rest in peace. God is with you.
♦ ♦ ♦
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION:
World War I + World War II + Frank W. Buckles + Last American World War I Veteran Dies + Treaty of Versailles + Nazis + Normandy Campaign + United States Army– Then and Now + Invasion of Poland in 1939 + the invasion of China by Imperial Japan + The Rape of Nanking + The Kwantung Army
© Marielena Montesino de Stuart
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