Back to previous post: This Word ‘Centrist’ That You Keep Using….

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: The Great War, ninety years on

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

November 11, 2008

A life
Posted by Patrick at 11:51 AM *

He was born on February 1, 1901, in Bethany, Missouri. In April 1917, sixteen years old, he lied about his age to enlist in the United States Army. He was sent to the war in Europe, where he drove ambulances in France and, after the armistice, escorted freed prisoners of war back to Germany.

After the war, he went to work in the steamship business: first for the White Star Line in Toronto, then for American President Lines in Manila. After the Japanese conquered the Philippines in December 1941, he spent over three years in their prison camps, finally freed by the 11th Airborne in February 1945. He suffers from the aftereffects of beriberi to this day.

He came home, married, and bought a farm in West Virginia, which he personally maintained up until only a few years ago. His wife passed away in 1999.

He has been honored by his country on several occasions. In 1999 he was awarded the Legion of Honor by French president Jacques Chirac.

Asked in 2007 by the Washington Post how he felt about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said “I’m no authority, but I’m not in favor of war unless it’s an emergency.”

He is 107 years old. He lives in Charles Town, West Virginia. And he is the last surviving veteran of American forces in World War One.

Happy Armistice Day, Frank Woodruff Buckles.

Comments on A life:
#1 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 12:21 PM:

Happy Armistice Day, Mister Buckles, and all other vets.

#2 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 12:28 PM:

This story is harder to read.

#3 ::: Dermott McSorley ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 12:37 PM:

The passage of time.My grandfather served in WW1,I remember him and his friends who had also served.In later life I considered him truly brave ,he had fought in the trenches, had been wounded,and still served in WW2 He left a diary of his experiences; he was returning to the trenches on Nov 11 after the hospital .The fighting had ended just before he got back.

#4 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 12:41 PM:

P J Evans #2: It certainly is.

I remember today my old teacher, John Hearne, who, as an RAF officer at the end of the Second World War was responsible for the evacuation of British Jews from Germany. His description of taking six-foot tall men weighing less than ninety pounds onto aircraft was truly haunting.

#5 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 01:19 PM:

And here is the story of the last American soldier to die during the Great War.

#6 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 01:31 PM:

Honor to Mr. Buckles, and I'd also like to take this time to thank Jim and Terry and all our other veterans for their service.

#7 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 01:35 PM:

Amen, Xopher. And may the world be a more peaceful place next Armistice/Veterans/Remembrance Day.

#8 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 02:12 PM:

Honoring veterans and noting the passage of time: For Veterans' Day in about 1946, my mother, then a high-school journalist, interviewed two of the last surviving Civil War veterans in Michigan.

#9 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 02:14 PM:

What Xopher and Debbie--and Patrick-- said. Thank you, veterans, for your sacrifices.

I really wish I could have persuaded Dad to write down his experiences.

#10 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 02:25 PM:

OK, after reading Scalzi's Veteran's Day Post, I decided I needed to do better. Here's the relevant part of what I posted there:

I thank all my vet friends individually, to the extent possible, on this day. But for all you veterans here who I don’t know: thank you. Thank you for your service, and for being patient with the civilian population when we don’t understand what you’ve been through...
Your service is, in fact, part of the reason I vote in every election (I missed a couple of school board elections recently, but that’s it): not specifically to honor you, but because I know that voting is a privilege gained at cost, and if I’m not paying the cost the very least I can do is my own duty as a citizen. I will also criticize the government (yes, even the Obama government), which is also a duty and a privilege of citizens, bought with the sacrifice of “rough men” (and women).
I honor you in words, and back that up by doing my part to make sure goverment by, of, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth…though as a civilian, my primary focus is on domestic enemies, while yours is/has been/was primarily on foreign ones.
Profound thanks. This may be the only day I say it, but it’s far from the only time I think of and appreciate your service, and what precious freedoms it buys for me.

#11 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 03:11 PM:

What Xopher so eloquently said, from me to all those who've done us the honor of serving.

#12 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 03:17 PM:

All honor to Mr. Buckles. Best of the day to him.

It's hard to believe my grandfather died over 20 years ago. He was the radio operator on a spy ship, and when he came home he received Commercial Operator License #17. Or maybe it was #7. I never saw the piece of paper, though he said he looked for it -- seems the trunk it was in went somewhere astray. He governed a CCC camp in the depression, and went back into the Army in WW2. After the war, he became an extreme rightwinger, ghosting radio scripts for Upton Close and producing pamphlets that are still available from tiny little publishers out there.

In his later years, he was still an amazing man, continuing to write (including novels, poems, and novel-length poems, as well as a memoir that was edited down and published by University of Texas -- reading through it, I recognize some parts that I typed while we were visiting the ranch) and invent, even after he stopped raising Angus cattle. The older he got, the more eager he was to share his political views with anybody who held still.

My dad, who seems to have inherited some of his outlook, never says much about his WW2 service. Last year I read a typescript memoir by my uncle that told me as much as I've ever learned about Dad's service in what he calls "the Boer War." Uncle Don also wrote a novel based on events in his life, in which the character modeled on Dad spent time in a prison camp. I'm glad it's fiction.

#13 ::: Barney Soboda ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 03:18 PM:

As a youngster delivering newspapers in Pittsburgh, there were a lot of Old People on my route. Since I never was in a hurry, those folks loved to chat, and shared oral history with me, many of them Veterans of the Great War. A new war was just starting, and I had an opportunity to listen to comparisons between the two wars. Like Mr. Buckles they all agreed that War is not good. I am sorry he is gone.

#14 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 03:20 PM:

And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

"But as year follows year, more old men disappear.
Someday no one will march there at all."

#15 ::: Nicholas Waller ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 04:03 PM:

Jeffrey Smith @5 - Michael Palin (of M Python, not Alaska) did a TV programme last week about the people killed in the last hours of the war, including Gunther, presumably not visible in the USA but anyway

The three surviving British veterans of WWI - 108, 110 and 112 yo - were wheeled out in a moving ceremony at the Cenotaph in London. One of them, Harry Patch, who lives a few miles from me, has produced an autobiography, "The Last Fighting Tommy" (he's the last surviving soldier to have fought in the trenches, getting badly wounded in 1917; the other vets were in the Navy and/or Flying Corps). It's well worth reading. And see

Harry Patch was 100 before he talked about the war. He didn't want to go in the first place (his brother had already been wounded and told him what it was really like) and still thinks the war was not worth one life.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 05:33 PM:

War is an evil necessity, but we need to honour those who are willing to risk their lives to preserve hearth-fire and home-acre, and those who gave their lives in that service.

#17 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 06:36 PM:

War is evil; it's not always a necessity, and it rarely needs to be as bloody as it is. I'm thankful for the political leaders and military commanders who realize this, and are miserly with the lives of their troops, while still obtaining their objectives. May there more of them. I'm even more thankful for the troops who go in harm's way even when they don't know for sure if their sacrifice is unavoidable. May we need fewer of them.

#18 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 06:43 PM:

Xopher: thanks, but not today; today's not my day (I don't care what Ike said).

Today is, or should be, about the war, and not doing that again.

#19 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 10:28 PM:

Thank you, Mr. Buckles.

My grandfathers were conscripted after President Wilson so graciously bestowed US citizenship on the people of Puerto Rico in 1917. My paternal grandfather, José Quiñones, was in the Navy, as something of a valet to some naval officer or other. He apparently spent some time in Cardiff, and he got to see Paris after the war ended. He'd be 112 if he were living.

My maternal grandfather, Eulogio Hernández, was not in the service long. I don't know which branch or why they let him go, though since he could ride a horse, maybe he was in the cavalry. He'd be 114. (For comparison's sake, I'm 40.)

#20 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 12:14 AM:

Chris, they were stewards. When I was little, the stewards, almost all Puerto Rican, lived in the same sections of the bases as the enlisted, so they were our neighbors.

#21 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 02:06 AM:

Marilee, stewards were traditionally non-white personnel, as they were looked upon as servants to the upper ranks of the officer corps. Up to WW 2 they were primarily black. During the war due to "pressures of wartime on manpower resources" other ratings were opened up to black men; in 1942 all enlisted ratings were opened to all qualified (male) personnel. Following the integration of the services by Truman the steward position became the rating Puerto Ricans and later Filipinos were slotted into.

Interestingly, the name of the rating has changed a couple of times. It was steward (ST) until 1975, when it changed to Mess Management Specialist (MS). Then in 2004 it was changed to Culinary Specialist (CS).

I don't need to tell you that fancier titles don't mean pay raises, do I?

#22 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 02:16 AM:

My maternal grandfather was in the European theatre during WWII, and was wounded and captured by the Germans. I knew that he had been a POW, but it was only about two years ago that he was comfortable enough to sit down and write (even in abbreviated form) the whole story for his kids and grandkids. I don't think he was in the worst prisons, but there was forced marching to escape the Allies involved.

He's now a fisherman and church elder in a little town in northwestern Ontario, having been sponsored in his immigration to Canada in the 1970s by the only other man in the country with his specialty (music engraving)--who happened to be a German-Canadian. He now has six kids, twelve grandkids, and two great-grandkids. He fishes avidly but refuses to handle guns.

I should go give him an e-hug. I love you, grandpa Ted.

#23 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 09:52 AM:

Marilee, 20: Yes, steward was the word I tried to come up with but couldn't. Grandpa was definitely a dark-skinned Puerto Rican, so the slotting you and Linkmeister talk about was clearly applicable.

To go to the next generation, my dad and his brother served in WWII; Uncle Cesar was a medic in Italy, and all I know about the details is that he contracted malaria during his time there. Dad was stateside; he played in an Army band, French horn and tuba, so I remember being told. I think my mother has pictures of his band. I should ask about them.

My brother had academic deferments from Vietnam, and my nephews, the youngest 13 and the oldest 26, are still subject to draft registration, dammit!

#24 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 09:26 PM:

re stewards, and integration: The Navy was the last to completely integrate, managing, at sea, to keep blacks, and Philipinos, and Puerto Ricans, and... out of most ratings until the '70s, despite the official policies.

#25 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 09:28 PM:

Nenya: My grandfather was in WW1. He encouraged his kids to learn to shoot, but never touched a firearm again after 1919 (he was part of the US occupation forces).

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.