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Last WWI American Vet Dies At 110

Photo: Getty Images

Frank Buckles, who was the last known surviving veteran from World War I, died yesterday from natural causes at the age of 110. His age isn’t the most shocking thing though. The fact that he lied about his age to enlist in the Army at the age of 16 is what’s incredible.

Buckles was born in Bethany, Missouri in 1901 and lived in a farmhouse. He entered the Army on April 14, 1917, just eight days after the United States entered the war that had already been waging for three years and cost millions their lives. He was only 16.

He originally tried enlisting in the Marines and the Navy by claiming that he was 18 and then 21, but was turned away due to age, his weight and because he was flat-footed. Even after he passed an inspection with the Marines, he was told he did not weigh enough.

He then went to Oklahoma City to try his luck with the Army. After a captain demanded to see Buckles’ birth certificate, he replied with:

I told him birth certificates were not made in Missouri when I was born, that the record was in a family Bible, Buckles said. I said, ‘You don’t want me to bring the family Bible down, do you?

The captain gave him a stern look and said that he would take him. His brave plan had worked.

It’s very interesting to think that such a young man had the knowledge and courage to want to put his life at risk for his country, but he felt he was obligated.

I knew what was happening in Europe, even though I was quite young, he told The Washington Post in 2005. And I thought, well, ‘I want to get over there and see what it’s about.

In December of 1917 Buckles was en route to Europe with the rest of the Army crew. The cool thing is that they

Photo: Mark Wilson, Getty Images

 traveled via the Carpathia, which just five years earlier had rescued survivors that were aboard the Titanic. From there, he was immediately moved to France. He never served on the front line, however. He was involved in a part of the Army that helped German prisoners return home.

Over four million Americans served in the war, and of those, around 116,500 lost their lives. Buckles was not one of those, however.

When he returned home to the U.S., Buckles was given little help and support. The government game him a bonus of $60, and the local YMCA gave him a free membership for a month. What little “reward” for serving in the Army at 16. Anyway, Buckles decided to put the bonus toward typing classes, which later got him a job as a clerk at a steamship company.

24 years later, during the Depression, Buckles sailed the world and finally found himself serving on the front line.  He represented a U.S. shipping company in Manila in January 1942 when the Philippines’ capital was captured by invading Japanese troops. Buckles was held at a number of prison camps in the Philippines, including the well-known facility in Los Banos, where foreign internees were regularly beaten by Japanese guards and fed meager, grub-filled rations.

Buckles was 44 at that time, and was suffering from beriberi and dengue fever, in addition to starvation.

The starvation at Los Banos was so bad, it is surprising that any of us survived, he wrote in 2009. When The 11th Airborne finally freed us on February 23, 1945, we all looked pretty much like skeletons with skin on.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

It was at that time that Buckles had reached his breaking point, and he decided to direct his life elsewhere. He worked for a painting company as a salesman and then married Audrey Mayo in 1946. 1n 1954, the two bought a 330-acre cattle farm near Charles Town.

In 1999, one amazing thing and one devastating thing took place. His wife died, but that blow was lightened when Buckles was given the highest decoration in the country. He was awarded the French Legion of Honor by French President Jacques Chirac.

Buckles was named the last surviving veteran in 2008 after the death of 108-year-old Harry Landis.

I always knew I’d be one of the last because I was one of the youngest when I joined, Buckles, then 107, told the New York Daily News. But I never thought I’d be the last one.

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