WWI – the last of the Doughboys

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For the United States, World War I began 92 years ago today. As of this writing, there is one remaining American doughboy still with us. His name is Frank Buckles, and his story is amazing.

Born in 1901, he grew up a Missouri farm boy and was 16 when heard about the beginning of American involvement in the Great War. He tried to enlist in the Marines and Navy, but was rejected. The Army was willing to take him if he could show proof of age (he told them he was 18). Since Missouri apparently didn’t make birth certificates back then, family bibles were used instead to prove date of birth, so Frank convinced the recruiters that he couldn’t haul the family bible all the way down to the recruiting station. They bought the story, and he was allowed signed up. Shortly thereafter he was sent to France and, “…drove motorcycles with sidecars, transported VIPs, guarded German prisoners and drove ambulances in France and England.” (Stars and Stripes)

Frank survived the “war to end all wars”, only to find himself in the Philippines at the beginning of World War II. From Stars and Stripes: “The Japanese invaded the Philippines in December 1941 and Buckles spent three and a half years in Japanese prison camps at Santo Tomas and Los Banos. He was rescued by the 11th Airborne Division on February 23, 1945.”

Now days, he lives with his daughter and her husband on a family farm in West Virginia, and still exercises every day. In an answer to a PBS question about how he stayed alive so long, he said, “When you think you’re going to die, don’t.”

He has become the face of an effort to dedicate a WWI memorial on the Capitol mall – the only major war fought in the last hundred years without one. WWI resulted in more American military deaths than the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined, yet the only memorial on the mall connected to the Great War is one designed to honor DC area veterans, not the the nearly five million who served from the entire country. Maybe it is time – while the last doughboy is still alive to see it.

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