Frank Buckles was the oldest known U.S. World War I vet. He passed away last night in West Virginia, having just turned 110 years old earlier this month. Born in 1901 in Missouri, Buckles joined up with the army at only 16 years old. He lied about his age, and it worked -- he was soon sent off to war as a member of the ambulance corps. He also served in WWII, surviving three years in a Japanese POW camp, according to CNN.
Thankfully, the admirable veteran's passing has been acknowledged all over the news today. President Obama released a statement, too:
Michelle and I were inspired by the service and life story of former Army Corporal Frank W. Buckles ... Frank Buckles lived the American Century ... And just as Frank continued to serve America until his passing, as the Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation, our nation has a sacred obligation to always serve our veterans and their families as well as they’ve served us.
I appreciate how the President acknowledged the amazing life of Frank Buckles and asserted that we as Americans owe our veterans and their families more than we may initially realize. Not just respect and gratitude, but vets and their families should be looked out for. FDR had the right idea with the G.I. Bill. Vets could come home after defending Americans overseas and get an education, buy a home, etc. -- it just made sense.
And his incredible feats as a veteran aside, it's amazing to think this man lived through the entire 20th century and into the 21st. I've always been sort of mesmerized by the idea of living Titanic survivors, or even people -- like my grandmothers -- who can vividly remember the Great Depression. Life was so much different even 10 years ago (pre-9/11) -- let alone 100 years ago! Can you imagine? Buckles was actually living history.
It's really scary how we're now losing the last people who were our only living ties to the realities and horrors of the World Wars. Frank Buckles was one man who saw both with his own two eyes -- he lived through it and survived. Now that we're left only with second accounts of important memories, I can only hope that someone close to Buckles (his daughter Susannah, perhaps?) took care to write his journey down so that it can be shared with future generations.
This is crucial, because it seems like our nation's memories of both wars, but especially WWI, are slipping or have already slipped away. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Buckles in 2008:
The First World War is not well understood or remembered in the United States. There is no big memorial on the National Mall. Hollywood has not turned its gaze in this direction for decades. Yet few events have so markedly shaped the world we live in.
Reading that, I can only shake my head and hope that with Buckles' passing, more Americans will realize how imperative it is that we make a POINT to remember ... so that we never, ever repeat.
Image via The U.S. Army/Flickr