In honor of Memorial Day, I am featuring something I found while on my quest to find husky mascots. I have been wanting to honor Frank Buckles for some time, but I can't do it as well as Jade Womack did in the Lasso Online (the student newspaper of George Mason High School).
Relating to the Oldest American Veteran
By Jade Womack (May 26, 2008)
In honor of Memorial Day and the many veterans of our country, Lasso Online has kept this article until now to help Mustangs remember how much we can learn and relate to the courageous soldiers who have fought and will fight for the U.S.A. A few months ago, I had the privilege of meeting Frank Buckles, who is the last surviving World War I soldier in America. Ideally he is the oldest soldier currently in America. He is the single thread that keeps World War I from slipping into secondhand memory. At 107 years old, he has seen so much history firsthand that students at Mason now study in textbooks.
He was eleven when the Titanic sank, “It was big news.” he said. He remarked children that actually read the newspaper at that time. At two years old, Ford Motor Company was created and around seven, the first plastics were invented. He drove the family car when he was twelve and at the bright age of thirteen, he bought his first telegraph. At the age of fifteen, he worked as a bank teller. He bought his first TV in the 1960’s for $100. (The dollar was worth more when he was a child.) He remembers reading several accounts of when the Red Baron was shot down.
At age sixteen, the United States entered World War I and Buckles was eager to join to serve his country. He lied about his age and told them he was eighteen. Since there was no Air Force, his choices were the Army, Navy, or Marines. He applied first to the Marines and was told he was not heavy enough. He then went to the Navy and was turned down because of his flat feet. He then went to two Army recruiting centers. The first time he was again turned down because of his age; he had to be twenty-one. Buckles didn’t give up and went to another center; however, the officer wanted proof of his age. “I said where I came from there weren’t birth certificates.” he notes. The officer believed him, and Buckles was sent to Kansas for training in the ambulance corps. He believed that was the easiest way to get to France.
When on a ship in Norfolk, a fortune teller came aboard and told him that he would have seven good years, then some horrible years. He stated that she was correct for he had seven wonderful years aboard the ship. He had the chance to transfer to another but turned it down because he was happy there. Then World War II broke out and his ship was turned into a merchant ship for the Marines.
Soon after, in the Philippines, he and the crew were captured by the Japanese and spent 39 months as prisoners of war. Although he wasn’t tortured, many around him starved to death. “There was a chap that everyone liked,” Buckles said. “He always tried to be cheerful. But he became weak. He said, ‘Frank, I’m not going to make it.’ The next day, he died. Maybe I made it because I had the will to survive, but many died.”
I asked him about his opinion on all the schedules people have for their lives. He asked “What’s the rush” of today’s instant news, schedules, and information age? Buckles doesn’t have a computer and doesn’t know he has a Wikipedia page. In addition, he does not currently own a television and thinks people watch too much of it. He said one of the problems today is people no longer read.
No one had a driver’s license when he was in his teens. Buckles was able to master the art of driving from the car dealer. However, when he tried to teach his father later, they crashed into their fence because his father kept yelling “Whoa! Whoa!” to the car and did not know how to use the brake.
Church in Buckles day was not only a forum for religion, but a way to socialize. He stated that he used to like this red headed girl, but he couldn’t see her because she went to a different church. “You didn’t call on the telephone.” Back in those days the only way to “flirt” with a girl would be at church.” You could walk her home in front of her parents.” Buckles relates. So he begged his parent to change churches. “And they did!” he said. Then he could walk with her on the way home. He added his advice on love—“Don’t get married until you can afford it.”
I asked him advice he would give today to high school students. “Everyone tries to get rich,” he said. “But money can disappear very quickly. Being rich is a brief situation.” Furthermore, he remarked that people should strive to get a job they enjoy and can support themselves without help from anyone. “A person should never go into anything they don’t like,” he said.
He can remember when he was eighteen and women got the right to vote. He said it wasn’t long ago and it was a good thing. “Yet it [woman being able to vote] should have happened long time ago. There isn’t a thing a man can do that a woman can’t do.”
I asked him: Who was the worst president he lived under and who was the best? He was only eight months old when McKinley was killed, but he was the worst, or at least that was what his parents always told him. The best president was Theodore Roosevelt in his opinion. He knew several of Roosevelt’s children personally.
Nevertheless, he liked John Kennedy because “We needed someone young in there.” When I asked about Nixon, Buckles said, “Nixon might have used bad language, but his foreign policy was fine.” With current politics, he thinks the Iraq conflict is a mistake, “and we have no business being there.”
Yet, how does he survive? The oldest man ever recorded to live was around 120 which Buckles could pass in thirteen years. His secret is exercise. He does around 50 sit-ups every morning while still in bed at 107 years old. He worked on his farm until three years ago and drove his car until he was 100.
When asked about World War I, he stated that his generation had been forgotten. All around the mall there are monuments for World War II, Vietnam, and Korea. Where is World War I’s? “It’s about time.” Time is something that this WWI [veteran] has cherished. He says the secret of his long life was “The will to survive.”