An American Veteran of the First World War
GUY RAZ, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz here on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Now, when you walk along the mall, you'll find these grand National memorials to the soldiers who fought and died in Vietnam and Korea, and World War II. But look for a national memorial to the tens of thousands of doughboys who died in the First World War, and you'll be looking a while because there isn't one.
There's just a small stone temple nestled behind some tress honoring the soldiers from this city who died. Now today, time has claimed all of the known American soldiers who survive that first Great War, all but one. At 107, Frank Buckles is the last surviving American veteran of World War I.
And earlier today, we reach Frank Buckles in Kansas City. He was there with his daughter Susana(ph), attending a ceremony at the National World War I Museum. Frank Buckles was just 16 when he enlisted back in 1917. Legally, he was too young to serve, so Mr. Buckles lied about his age.
Corporal FRANK BUCKLES (Last Surviving Veteran of World War I): I did not lie about - I misrepresented the age.
Ms. SUSANA BUCKLES: Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RAZ: He told me he didn't want to miss out on a chance to be part of history.
Cpl. BUCKLES: It was a very important event. The whole world was involved then - and I intended to be a part of that world.
RAZ: By 1917, Frank Buckles was standing on the deck of the HMS Carpathia headed for France. He saw no combat during the war. Buckles drove an ambulance near the front. And towards the end of the war, he was assigned to guard German POWs. Many of the prisoners had instruments, and at night, Buckle says, the Germans would play for their captors.
Cpl. BUCKLES: And they would be on their side of the fence and Americans would set up some benches on the outside and listen to the concert.
RAZ: Remarkably, Frank Buckles went from prison guard to prisoner, a quarter century later during the 2nd World War. He was a civilian who just happened to be working in the Philippines when the Japanese invaded in 1941. Frank Buckles spent the rest of the war inside the notorious Los Banos interment camp. The 2000 prisoners inside that camp were rescued by soldiers in the 11th Airborne Division on February 23, 1945.
Cpl. BUCKLES: The rescue of Los Banos was one of the remarkable rescues of World War II because they rescued all of the 2200 prisoners without any fatalities.
RAZ: Frank Buckles has lived almost half of America's entire history. I asked him if he had deliberately sought out adventure as a young man.
Cpl. BUCKLES: Adventure was looking for me. They had found me (unintelligible) often found me.
RAZ: Frank Buckles is the last known surviving American veteran of World War I. He's 107 years old.
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