The Last Doughboy of World War I
America’s last living, breathing link to WWI. *sigh*
(He looks pretty darned good for 107.)
At age 107, Frank Buckles proudly wears the French Legion of Honor medal, one of many honors to have come his way lately.
Frank Woodruff lied about his age to serve in World War I. At 109, he is America’s only living link to the great conflict
By Richard Rubin
Photographs by Karen Kasmauski
Smithsonian magazine, October 2008
Frank Woodruff Buckles was visiting the Kansas State Fair in Wichita one day in the summer of 1917 when, seeing a Marine Corps recruiting booth, he decided to enlist; the nation had just entered World War I. Buckles was only 16, but he told the recruiting sergeant he was 18. The recruiter, perhaps suspecting the boy’s real age, offered a fib of his own: he told Buckles he had to be at least 21 to become a United States Marine. Undaunted, Buckles passed another booth and tried his luck with a Navy recruiter. He, too, turned Buckles down, saying he had flat feet, which he didn’t.
But Buckles wouldn’t give up. The Great War, which had started in 1914, was “an important event,” he explains. “The world was interested in it. I was interested.” So he traveled south to try his luck with recruiters in Oklahoma City. Again, the Marines turned him down. So did the Navy. But an Army sergeant passed him on to a captain, who asked him for a birth certificate. “I explained that when I was born in Missouri, birth certificates were not a public record,” Buckles recalls. “It would be in the family Bible. And I said, ‘You wouldn’t want me to bring the family Bible down here, would you?’ He said, ‘Go on, we’ll take you.’” And so it was that in August of 1917, Frank Buckles joined 4.7 million Americans recruited or conscripted for the new American Expeditionary Forces. They are all gone now—all except Buckles, who turned 107 this past February. He is the last living American veteran of the Great War.