MICHELE NORRIS, host:
He lived the American century. That's what President Obama said today about Corporal Frank Buckles. Buckles was the last of more than 4 million Americans who served in World War I. He died Sunday, at the age of 110. NPR's Tom Bowman has this remembrance.
TOM BOWMAN: Frank Buckles signed up to be a soldier in 1917. He was a Missouri farm boy, fascinated by the war that was engulfing Europe. He followed it closely in the newspapers. So when America entered World War I, Buckles knew he just had to get into the fight. Here he is, talking with NPR three years ago.
(Soundbite of archived audio)
Mr. FRANK BUCKLES (World War I Veteran): It was a very important event. The whole world was involved, and I intended to be a part of that world.
BOWMAN: Intended to be part of that world. The only problem was that Buckles was underage, just 16 years old. You had to be 18 to enlist. So the Marines rejected him, then the Navy. Buckles approached Army recruiters and lied about his age, telling them the only proof was at home in the family Bible.
Mr. BUCKLES: I did not lie about it. I misrepresented the age.
BOWMAN: Buckles set off for France with his fellow soldiers, climbing aboard the HMS Carpathia, the ship that just five years earlier had saved survivors from the Titanic.
He didn't see combat on the Western Front. Instead, Buckles drove an ambulance, and he later guarded German prisoners as the war was coming to an end. He remembers some of the German POWs had musical instruments, and would at times play for their captors.
Mr. BUCKLES: And they would be on their side of the fence, and the Americans would set up some benches on the outside and listen to the concert.
BOWMAN: After the war, Buckles traveled throughout Europe. He learned German, Spanish and Portuguese. Buckles ended up working for a shipping company, which sent him to the Philippines in 1940, just after another world war began.
When the Japanese invaded, Buckles was among those rounded up and sent to the notorious Los Banos prison camp. His weight dropped below 100 pounds, but he was still able to lead his fellow prisoners in calisthenics.
Finally, in February 1945, after more than three years of captivity, soldiers from the American 11th Airborne Division liberated Buckles and the other captives.
Mr. BUCKLES: The rescue of Los Banos was one of the remarkable rescues of World War II because they rescued all of the 2,200 prisoners without any fatalities.
BOWMAN: Looking back on his life, when he spoke to NPR three years ago, Buckles said he was just a farm boy looking for adventure.
Mr. BUCKLES: Adventure was looking for me - and found me.
BOWMAN: As Buckles liked to say, adventure not only found him, it found him often.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.
(Soundbite of song, "Over There")
Unidentified Man: (Singing)...we'll be over. We're coming over. And we won't come back 'til it's over over there.
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