RIP: Frank Buckles, America's last veteran of World War I

He was born seven months before Teddy Roosevelt succeeded William McKinley and two years before the Wright brothers’ first success with powered flight at Kitty Hawk. Via NBC, his enlistment record notes that he signed up on August 14, 1917; John F. Kennedy was less than three months old at the time. He was paid $143.90 for his service, $60 of which was a bonus. Later he went to work in international shipping and ended up in the Philippines in 1941. The Japanese invaded and sent him to a POW camp, where he wasted away for almost the entire span of the war. The 11th Airborne finally liberated him in February 1945.

He settled in West Virginia and lived quietly until his astounding longevity brought him some attention in the past few years. France awarded him the Legion of Honor and he was invited to the White House to meet Bush. He became a spokesman for the World War I Memorial Foundation, and to the end lamented that people seemed not to want to talk about the war after it was over. A haunting quote from the first clip below, from 2007: “Nobody asked me what I had seen. And I felt something was wrong about that.”

The second clip is a trailer for a documentary about him that’s set for release later this year. America under the Constitution is a little more than 220 years old; he lived through fully half of it. What a life.

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