RIP: Frank Buckles, last American WWI vet
February 28, 2011 - 8:31 am
The last doughboy has gone onto his reward.
Mr. Buckles said he was just a naive schoolboy chasing adventure when he enlisted Aug. 14, 1917, after the United States joined a war that had been raging for three years, with millions dead. “I knew what was happening in Europe, even though I was quite young,” he told a Washington Post reporter when he was 105. “And I thought, well, ‘I want to get over there and see what it’s about.” …
“Every last one of us Yanks believed we’d wrap this thing up in a month or two and head back home before harvest,” he said. “In other words, we were the typical cocky Americans no one wants around until they need help winning a war.” …
He weathered the Depression at sea on his purser’s salary, regularly making port calls in newly Nazified Germany. He saw Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Summer Olympics, he said, and watched Jesse Owens anger the dictator by sprinting to victory in Berlin’s Reichssportfeld.
Then, in December 1941, he was working in a shipping company’s Manila office when Japanese invaders landed in Luzon after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Three years, two months,” he said of his captivity in the Philippines, eventually at a notorious camp in Los Banos. There, under pitiless Japanese guards, hundreds of Allied civilian and military internees lived in squalor, subsisting on often wormy rations.