February 28, 2011
by Tom Bowman
Frank Buckles — a Missouri farm boy who fudged his age to get into the Army, served in two world wars and became the last living U.S. veteran of the first — has died of natural causes at his Charles Town, W. Va. home. He was 110.
As President Obama put it in a statement Monday, “Frank Buckles lived the American century.”
His career as a soldier began in 1917 just after America entered World War I.
“It was a very important event,” Buckles told NPR’s Tom Bowman three years ago. “The whole world was involved and I intended to be part of that world.”
The only problem was that Buckles was 16 — and you had to be 18 to enlist. The Marines rejected him. Then the Navy. So Buckles approached Army recruiters and lied about his age, telling them the only proof was at home in the family Bible.
“I did not lie,” he told NPR. “I just misrepresented the age.”
The Adventure Begins
Buckles set off for France with his fellow soldiers, climbing aboard the HMS Carpathia, the ship that just five years earlier had saved survivors from the Titanic.
He didn’t see combat on the Western Front. Instead, Buckles drove an ambulance. And later he guarded German prisoners as the war was coming to an end. He remembered that some of the German POWs had musical instruments, and would at times play for their captors.
“And they would be on their side of the fence and Americans would set up some benches on the outside and listen to the concert,” he said.