Frank Buckles, the last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I, has died. He was 110.
Buckles, who also survived being a civilian POW in the Philippines in World War II, died peacefully of natural causes early Sunday at his home in Charles Town, biographer and family spokesman David DeJonge said in a statement. Buckles turned 110 on Feb. 1 and had been advocating for a national memorial honoring veterans of World War I in Washington, D.C.
Buckles lied about his age to join the army at age 16. The Missouri native was among nearly 5 million Americans who served in World War I in 1917 and 1918.
"I knew there'd be only one (survivor) someday. I didn't think it would be me," he was quoted as saying in recent years.
Buckles drove an ambulance during the war. said that with Buckles' death, only a 109-year-old Australian man and a 110-year-old British woman were believed to survive from the estimated 65 million people who served in the 1914-1918 war.
On Nov. 11, 2008, the 90th anniversary of the end of the war, Buckles attended a ceremony at the grave of World War I Gen. John Pershing in Arlington National Cemetery.
"I can see what they're honoring, the veterans of World War I," he told CNN.
He was back in Washington a year later to endorse a proposal to rededicate the existing World War I memorial on the National Mall as the official National World War I Memorial. He told a Senate panel it was "an excellent idea." The memorial was originally built to honor District of Columbia's war dead.
Born in Missouri in 1901 and raised in Oklahoma, Buckles visited a string of military recruiters after the United States entered the "war to end all wars" in April 1917. He was repeatedly rejected before convincing an Army captain he was 18. He was 16½.
"A boy of (that age), he's not afraid of anything. He wants to get in there," Buckles said.
More than 4.7 million people joined the U.S. military from 1917-18.
Buckles served in England and France, working mainly as a driver and a warehouse clerk. The fact he did not see combat didn't diminish his service, he said: "Didn't I make every effort?"
An eager student of culture and language, he used his off-duty hours to learn German, visit cathedrals, museums and tombs, and bicycle in the French countryside.
After Armistice Day, Buckles helped return prisoners of war to Germany. He returned to the United States in January 1920.
Buckles returned to Oklahoma for a while, then moved to Canada, where he worked a series of jobs before heading for New York City. There, he again took advantage of free museums, worked out at the YMCA, and landed jobs in banking and advertising.
But it was the shipping industry that suited him best, and he worked around the world for the White Star Line Steamship Co. and W.R. Grace & Co.
Adventure 'just came to me'
In 1941, while on business in the Philippines, Buckles was captured by the Japanese. He spent 3½ years in prison camps.
"I was never actually looking for adventure," Buckles once said. "It just came to me."
He married in 1946 and moved to his farm in West Virginia in 1954, where he and wife Audrey raised their daughter, Susannah Flanagan. Audrey Buckles died in 1999.
In spring 2007, Buckles told the AP of the trouble he went through to get into the military.
"I went to the state fair up in Wichita, Kansas, and while there, went to the recruiting station for the Marine Corps," he said. "The nice Marine sergeant said I was too young when I gave my age as 18, said I had to be 21."
Buckles returned a week later.
"I went back to the recruiting sergeant, and this time I was 21," he said with a grin. "I passed the inspection ... but he told me I just wasn't heavy enough."
Then he tried the Navy, whose recruiter told Buckles he was flat-footed.
Buckles wouldn't quit. In Oklahoma City, an Army captain demanded a birth certificate.
"I told him birth certificates were not made in Missouri when I was born, that the record was in a family Bible. I said, 'You don't want me to bring the family Bible down, do you?'" Buckles said with a laugh. "He said, 'OK, we'll take you.'"