The United States lost a truly great hero on Sunday, yet he was a man that none of you probably knew. He was not a sports athlete (most of them aren't heroes anyway, we just think they are because they can dunk) or an actor (Charlie Sheen anyone?) or even a fireman or police officer (who have always been heroes but seem to have just come into vogue in the last couple of years). Nope, he is Frank Buckles and he was the last surviving US veteran of World War I.
He was 110 years old, born in Missouri, and managed to be a part of both World Wars. He entered the Army when war broke out in Europe. He enlisted on August 14, 1917 at the tender age of 16, and carried the serial number 15577. And boy how he tried to get that number. He repeatedly tried to get into the military before finally lying his way in. A Marines recruiter at a fair in Wichita, KS told him that he was too young. He said he was 18 but needed to be 21. A week later a different Marine recruiter at the same fair told him he wasn't heavy enough. This time he told the recruiter he was 21. A Navy recruiter told him he was flat-footed. Finally he went to Oklahoma City, where an Army captain demanded a birth certificate. So he lied, said he was 18 and had no birth certificate, and in he went.
And off he went, to Europe. He served mostly in England and France driving trucks and working in warehouses - not the on front line for sure but still vital to the war effort - even taking German POW's home to Germany after the war was over. He never saw combat, but always joked that he made every effort to. As such he never was able to win any of the medals, honors, etc. that allow one to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, although family, friends, and supporters were able to lobby the federal government to make an exception and allow it.
He was, however, a POW himself. Curiously enough, not in WWI though. After the war he became a sailor, working on ships going all around the world, and in that capacity was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1941. He spent 3 years in prison camps before being released. He married in 1946 and moved to a farm in West Virginia where he and his wife Audrey raised a daughter.
So what has Frank Buckles done to be so notable other than live longer than any WWI veteran in the United States? Well, he has been a tireless proponent of the erection of a national official monument to WWI veterans. Sometimes he would call weekly or even daily to find out how things were progressing towards that end, and went to Washington more times than Mr. Smith ever did in advocating its creation.
Now that he has passed away there is no one left alive from that conflict, and we begin to count down those who served in World War II. And hopefully his legacy will live on in a World War I national monument. Too bad nobody who was there will ever get to see it.