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Frank Buckles today at 110 years old.

 

CHARLES TOWN, West Virginia — World War I’s last surviving United States veteran, who also survived being a civilian POW in the Philippines for over three years during World War II, died last Sunday morning of natural causes at his home in Charles Town at age 110.

Frank Buckles, who just turned 110 on Feb. 1, said he had lied about his age in August 1917 when he was 16 so he could enlist.

The Army sent him to France, where he drove ambulances and motorcycles.

After the armistice, he helped return German prisoners of war to their country.

In 1940, the American President Lines, a shipping company that employed him, dispatched him to Manila to expedite the movement of cargo at the start of World War II.

He was there when Japanese troops invaded the Philippines.

“I knew we were going to get into the war, but I didn’t expect it was going to be so soon,” he recalled.

He was captured and became among 2,000 non-military prisoners of war, enduring three years and two months in a prison camp before he was rescued by American forces when they retook the Pacific island nation.

Until his death, Buckles had been advocating for a national memorial honoring veterans of the Great War in the nation’s capital and asked about its progress weekly, sometimes daily.

 

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Frank Buckles in his younger years as a soldier in the U.S. Army.

 

He even testified before a Senate panel in December 2009 on the master.

“He was sad it’s not completed,” says family spokesman David DeJonge.

“It’s a simple straightforward thing to do, to honor Americans.”

When asked in February 2008 how it felt to be the last of his kind, he said simply, “I realized that somebody had to be, and it was me.”

And he told The Associated Press he would have done it all over again, “without a doubt.”

Details for services and arrangements will be announced later, but DeJonge said Buckles’ daughter Susannah Flanagan is planning for burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

In 2008, friends persuaded the federal government to make an exception to its rules and allow his burial there. (Buckles wife Audrey died in 1999.)

Buckles had already been eligible to have his cremated remains housed at the cemetery.

To be buried underground, however, he would have had to meet several criteria, including earning one of five medals, such as a Purple Heart.

Buckles never saw combat but joked, “Didn’t I make every effort?”

“We have lost a living link to an important era in our nation’s history,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

“But we have also lost a man of quiet dignity, who dedicated his final years to ensuring the sacrifices of his fellow ‘Doughboys’ are appropriately commemorated.”

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller called Buckles “a wonderfully plainspoken man and an icon for the World War I generation” and said he will continue fighting for the memorial Buckles wanted.

More than 4.7 million Americans served in the military during World War I, which wracked Europe from 1914 to 1918.

When 108-year-old Harry Landis died in Florida in February 2008, Buckles became the last known surviving American participant.

He was saluted at ceremonies in Washington and West Virginia when it became known that he was the last of a generation.

David DeJonge, a Michigan filmmaker, is producing a documentary on Buckles’ life titled “Pershing’s Last Patriot.”

It will be narrated by actor Richard Thomas.