From a farm in Missouri to the front lines of World War I, Frank Buckles was the last living American soldier to have fought in the war when he died at the age of 110, in 2011. Buckles was one of nearly five million Americans who served during the First World War, when he enlisted in the Army to drive an ambulance in France. He spent most of the Second World War in a Japanese prison camp and eventually lived long enough to be the last known U.S. soldier from the First World War to die.
Born February 1st in 1901 by lamplight on a farm in Harrison County, Missouri. He was the youngest child of James and Theresa Buckles. He had two older brothers and two sisters. Frank might have almost not lived as long as he did, when he and his brother both caught scarlet fever in 1903. His brother died from the illness, while Frank survived. Frank’s father retired in 1905, bought a farm, and moved the family to Vernon County, Missouri in 1910, where Frank spent his early life in rural Missouri, before the family moved to Oakwood, Oklahoma when Frank was 15.
Showing an early interest in travel and adventure, at the age of 15 Frank was allowed to accompany a boxcar load of horses by himself between Missouri and Oklahoma. He quit school after turning 16, when he bluffed his way into the U.S. Army, eventually ending up as one of the roughly 2 million U.S. soldiers sent to France during the First World War.
In 1917, at the age of 16, Frank attempted to enlist in the Marine Corps, telling them he was 18. After being told he had to be 21, he later went back and lied, saying he was 21. At that point, he was told he was too small and not “heavy enough.” After the Marines, he attempted to join the Navy, where they told him he was flat-footed.
He was eventually able to bluff his way into service by joining the Army. They asked for a birth certificate, and he lied and told him public records were not made at the time of his birth. The Army accepted that explanation and Frank enlisted on the 14th of August 1917, with World War One at its peak.
Frank signed up to be an ambulance driver during the war, hearing from a sergeant that ambulance drivers were in heavy demand in France. After his training was complete, he sailed to Europe in December 1917 to Scotland and eventually Winchester, England where he was initially stationed. In England, he primarily spent his time driving visiting dignitaries around under the overall command of John J. Pershing.
Eventually, he was allowed to drive an officer to France, where he spent the remainder of the war with various assignments. Frank never made it much closer than 30 miles from the western front trenches. Yet, as an ambulance driver, he had ample opportunity to witness the human suffering caused by war. After the Armistice, his duties included escorting prisoners of war back to Germany. At the conclusion, Frank returned home in 1920 having obtained the rank of Corporal.
After returning home, and still with a desire to travel, Frank got a job aboard a steamship that was bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina. He spent several years working for Grace Line on cargo and passenger ships traveling through the Atlantic until 1940, when he accepted a job on a ship in Manila.
While working in the Philippines, in 1941, Frank was taken prisoner during the Japanese invasion. He spent three and a half years in a Japanese prison camp, where he ate all of his meals from a single tin cup, which he kept with him all his life. After 39 months, he was rescued by the Army Airborne Division on February 23rd, 1945.
After The Wars
After his rescue, Frank moved to San Francisco, California where he met and married his wife Audrey. It was around this time that Frank decided it was time to settle down. Frank and Audrey moved to a farm in Charles Town, West Virginia, where they raised cattle and had a daughter named Susannah.
It wasn’t until much later in life that Frank’s name became more well known, as WWI veterans began aging and dying. With the death of Harry Landis in 2008, Frank became the last surviving of the nearly 5 million U.S. soldiers involved in the war.
His wife Audrey died in 1999 when she was 78, and Frank lived with his daughter until his death on Sunday, February 27th, 2011. According to the live-in nurse, Frank took one last breath and died quietly and peacefully at the age of 110. He was the last WWI soldier to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.