Frank Buckles was a Missouri, Oklahoma farm boy looking for adventure in 1917. Or, as he said himself in an NPR interview three years ago, "Adventure was looking for me." The Great War was going on and he'd followed its progress, itching to go to the war that the whole world was involved in. He wanted, in his youthful idealism, to be a part of that world.
He first had to get past the reality that he was underage. The Navy and Marine Corps had already turned him down, but he convinced an Army recruiter that he was of the proper age. When asked if he had proof of his age, he said it was at home in the family Bible. Those were different times. He finally made it into the war, but spent his time as an ambulance driver during his time in France.
After the war was over he helped transfer German prisoners of war back to Germany. When he was released from active duty he traveled Europe learning Spanish and Italian on the way. He was still a man of adventure.
Frank was working for a shipping company in the Philippines in 1941 when he was captured by the Japanese. He would spend three years in a prison camps there. He lost so much weight in the camps that at one point he weighed less than 100 pounds, yet he still led other prisoners in daily calisthenics.
Settling in West Virginia with his family after WWII, he stayed involved with the 100,000 surviving members of WWI. In the end he would be the last living American warrior from the "war to end all wars." In an interview in 2008 he was asked how he felt about being the last survivor of WWI. His response reveals a lot about this humble man. He said, "I realized that somebody had to be, and it was me."
What an amazing and rare individual. Frank Buckles, according to President Barak Obama, "lived the 20th century" like none other. He fought in the two great world wars, saw the advent of the airplane, the landing on the moon, and the invention of the internet. He participated in more history than any man could have desired, and survived it all with humble aplomb. He was a man of great dignity. We do well in honoring him and his memory.