Tuesday, May 29, 2007

One of Three: World War I Vet Remembers

The life of Frank Buckles in some ways tracks a timeline for the rise of America as a superpower. He has been witness to it all, and he is one of very few living to tell about it.

At age 106, Buckles is one of only three known living American veterans of World War I, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"For many years, I would read the figures in The Torch [a veterans magazine] in two columns -- one was the number of 4.7 million-something veterans who served, and the other, which kept going down, was the number of us that were still alive," Buckles said. "I knew one day it would come to this. But I didn't think I would be one of the few still around to talk about it."

Lessons from the Great War

While World War I marked the decline of the British Empire and led to the remapping of the Mideast, "The Great War" has largely become the forgotten war of American history, said Eli Paul, director of the newly opened National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

In the shadow of their children

"These World War I veterans raised a generation that did them one better," said Paul, who added that museum visitors regularly comment that they hadn't realized the scope or importance of the war. "They got overshadowed in this country on Dec. 7, 1941, and never got out of the shadow."

Here he reports on the difficulty to recruit soldiers for the front:

Buckles, only 16, was eager to join up. On a trip to Kansas that summer, he stopped by a Marine recruiting office and tried to enlist. He told the recruiter he was 18, but the sergeant said he needed to be 21 to be eligible.

A few weeks later, Buckles returned to the same recruiting office and told the sergeant he was 21. The sergeant said he wasn't heavy enough.

After several other rejections, Buckles visited an Army recruiting office. When a recruiter asked for a birth certificate, he replied that his birth state of Missouri wasn't keeping such records at the time of his birth and his only record would be his family Bible. The recruiter took him at his word, and Buckles was on his way to war.

There is an abundant amount of history in our elderly if we only listen:

While he was in Manila on business in 1941, the Japanese invaded the Philippines and Buckles was taken prisoner.

When he actually served in a war, he did not get close to the front. But in a war in which he was a civilian, he was held prisoner for 3 1/2 years.

Talking, the best medicine

There was little food, and he lost more than 50 pounds, Buckles said. Toward the end of his internment, a Japanese guard caught an American as he tried to slip back into camp after heading out to forage for food.

"The Japanese guard told him to wait where he had stopped him," Buckles said. "He came back with his gun and shot him right there."

Buckles was among those rescued in a daring parachute mission by the 11th Airborne Division in February 1945.

Read the rest of this great story.

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