Sunday, February 01, 2009

A Living History Book

Frank Woodruff Buckles turns 108 years old today. That's pretty amazing in itself, but even more amazing is the fact that of the five million Americans who served in World War I, Mr. Buckles is the last of them. Think about that. The war officially ended on November 11, 1918 - more than 90 years ago - and one American veteran of that war is still alive to talk about it.

Ironically, Buckles spent most of World War I in France and Germany where he worked as a driver and warehouseman, a lucky draw when it came to that war, but in 1940 he got caught up in the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and was held as a prisoner of war for more than three years.

(Mr. Buckles at 107)

Last Tuesday, as a winter storm moved in from the west, he sat in a nice blue blazer in a warm corner of his day room, surrounded by history books. Outside, white wisps blew across the pale stubble on the 330-acre cattle farm where he settled quietly in 1954 after what already had been a life’s worth of adventure in not one but two wars and as a commercial seafarer. Beyond lay the river town of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and the Civil War battlefield at Antietam, Md.

Buckles said he had always known he would grow quite old. His father lived to be 97. He had a sister who was 104. Other relatives on his mother’s side lived to be 100.

The national World War I veterans group, of which he is the commander and sole member, used to publish a newsletter. Each issue counted down the number of old doughboys still around. As the number got smaller and smaller, “I realized I’d be one of the last,” he said, “but I never thought I’d be the last.”

He grinned slowly and added, “Of course, if it has to be somebody, it might as well be me.”
Oh, by the way, it seems that Buckles was determined to get into that war - he lied about his age, adding over a year to it, and finally convinced the army that he was actually 18.

Mr. Buckles in his own words...from a few months ago.

Happy birthday, Mr. Buckles, and thank you for your service.


  1. Wow. That is amazing. I actually had no idea anyone who'd fought in that war was still alive. So few people live past 100 and yet this man has not been in the news more? Really nice video too. Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. I hear you, Rebecca. It blows my mind to think that someone who fought in a war that ended over 90 years ago is still around to describe it first hand.