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Frank Buckles, the Last Surviving American Veteran of World War I

Though legendary American veterans may live forever in our hearts, no one truly lives forever. There will always be a last survivor, and of the estimated 4.7 million Americans who served in the First World War, West Virginia’s Frank Buckles was the last American witness to the horrors of the Western Front. Buckles died on February 27, 2011, but it was after a long, extraordinarily eventful life – and World War I was just the beginning.

The Last Survivor of World War I: Frank Buckles’ Journey

Buckles was born into a long line of veterans on February 1, 1901. He said his ancestors had served in the American Revolution and the Civil War. So, it should have been no surprise that a young Frank Buckles attempted to enlist to go to war just a few months after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917. He was rejected by the Marine Corps and the Navy for physical issues, but the Army felt so good about the young man that they accepted the lie that he was older than 16. 

Anxious to get to the front, he volunteered as an ambulance driver. He was on his way to join the American Expeditionary Force in Europe aboard the RMS Carpathia by December of that year. He would serve in England, then France, driving wounded allied troops in those ambulances until the war’s end in November 1918. He then marched several German prisoners of war back to Germany. He was discharged in 1919 but didn’t make it home until 1920. 

Frank Buckles’ Life of Service and Advocacy

Upon returning home, he went to business school in Oklahoma City, where he once attended a reception and met none other than his World War I commander, Gen. John J. Pershing. After graduating, he began working in shipping, which took him all over the world, including South Africa, the Pacific Islands, and even back to Germany. It was there, Buckles later said, that he saw Nazi antisemitism, fear of Adolf Hitler’s power, and Jesse Owens win a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He even claimed to have bumped into the Führer himself in a hotel stairway. 


When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Buckles happened to be in the Philippines on business. Japanese troops struck the Philippines on the same day as Pearl Harbor, but he didn’t flee from the islands. The image of starving civilians (especially children) he’d experienced in World War I Europe inspired him to stay and help distribute food in Manila. When Japanese troops captured the islands, they also captured Frank Buckles, and he spent the rest of World War II in the Los Baños prisoner of war camp with other American men. 

Battling starvation, atrophy, and the effects of malnutrition, he helped his fellow Americans, civilians, and GIs alike, survive whenever possible. He learned a little Japanese and was allowed to grow vegetables on the camp’s grounds. He augmented the children’s diets while leading the group in WWI-era Army calisthenics he’d grown to love so much. On February 23, 1945, his camp was liberated by the Allies, and he returned to the United States.  

He met his future wife, Audrey, in 1946. The two would be married until she died in 1999. They spent the rest of their lives at Gap View Farm near Charles Town, West Virginia. It was there they also had their only child. In 2009, at 108 years old, Buckles became the oldest person to testify before Congress, advocating for a national World War I Memorial on par with the grandeur of the other monuments in the capital. At the time, he was trying to get the District of Columbia’s WWI monument upgraded to a national monument and perhaps upgraded or restored to some kind of grandeur. He even met with then-President George W. Bush about it.

Of course, that’s not what happened. After a drive to pass legislation to create a National World War I Memorial, a design competition, and some fundraising, a new National World War I Memorial was created in Washington, D.C., in the former site of Pershing Park. In April 2021, the American flag was raised over the memorial for the first time. Sadly, Frank Buckles had died a decade prior, at age 110. 

Read About Other Military Myths and Legends

If you enjoyed learning about Frank Buckles, we invite you to read about other military myths and legends on our blog. You will also find military book reviews, veterans’ service reflections, famous military units and more on the TogetherWeServed.com blog.  If you are a veteran, find your military buddies, view historic boot camp photos, build a printable military service plaque, and more on TogetherWeServed.com today.


Tags: famous military units, First World War, Frank Buckles, Gen. John J. Pershing, military book reviews, National World War I Memorial, veterans’ service reflections

1 Comment

  1. Roy R. Lorenz

    Frank Buckles is so deserving of our celebration and recognition.


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