- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2008


Frank Woodruff Buckles was characteristically modest, as he received France’s highest award at the French Embassy this week for his service to the republic 90 years ago.

Mr. Buckles, at the age of 107, is the last living American soldier from World War I. He volunteered as a U.S. Army ambulance driver in France.

“I’m surprised to be the last. It’s more than I deserve. The real heroes were all gone,” he said at the ceremony Tuesday where a French official with a similar name presented him with the Legion of Honor.

Jean-Marie Bockel, secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, said France holds him in high regard as the symbol of America’s “commitment to the Great War, alongside France and its allies, in the name of democracy and freedom.” He said France wanted to recognize him during the 90th anniversary year of the 1918 armistice that ended the war.

Mr. Bockel grew emotional as he recounted the momentous events of the 20th century witnessed by the last American doughboy.

“Dear Frank Buckles,” he said, “I cannot help but recall that you are both the spectator of a world gone by, as well as the engaged actor of a new world. … You saw America conquer space and the moon. You saw America confront great perils, some of which today threaten our civilization.”

He called Mr. Buckles “the last witness of this bygone but strangely contemporary world.”

“Today, we pay tribute to the United States of America which twice sent its children to us so that European youths could live in freedom,” Mr. Bockel said. “Never shall France forget the blood spilled by the children of America.

“Frank Buckles, today all of us are the children of that American century. All of us are your grandchildren.”

Mr. Buckles, born in 1901 in Missouri, was 16 when the United States entered the war, five years younger than the minimum enlistment age of 21. But he convinced a recruiter he was old enough to join up and served as an ambulance driver in France.

After the war, Mr. Buckles sailed the oceans as a merchant seaman and was in port in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded on Dec. 8, 1941. He spent the next 3 1/2 years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

Mr. Buckles returned to the United States after the war, married and settled on a farm in West Virginia where he still lives.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has certified that Mr. Buckles is the last surviving soldier from World War I. The last French and German soldiers from that war died earlier this year.


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