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Oklahoma Memories

Frank Buckles

2011-03-05

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"When April 6, 1917, came and the notices appeared in the local post office, I was very excited about it."

That's the voice of Frank Buckles', America and Oklahoma's last World War I veteran.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

Frank Buckles once summed up his life saying adventure "just came to me." Frank Buckles passed away on Sunday, February 27th at the age of 110. At the time of his death he was the last living U.S. veteran of World War One.

Frank was born in 1901 near Bethany, Missouri, near the birthplaces of two famous generals...John "Black Jack" Pershing and Omar Bradley. At the age of 15 his family moved to Oklahoma as he explains in this 1988 interview from the US Army's Center for Military History.

"My father bought some land in Dewey County, Oklahoma, and I accompanied horses and purchased horses and equipment in a boxcar down to Oakwood in December 1916."

Buckles attended high school in Oakwood and worked at a local bank. A family story is that one afternoon while cleaning the bank, he overheard two men planning to break into the bank that night and steal the money kept in the safe. Buckles took the money from the safe and kept it in his room that night, then when the would-be robbers broke into the bank and the safe that night they came up empty handed.

In 1917 the U.S. entered the war that had been raging in Europe. Buckles, only 16 at the time, was in Wichita, Kansas, and went to both the Navy and Marine Corps recruitersto lie about his age saying he was 18. They didn't believe him so he returned to Oklahoma City. Boys, he said, read the papers so he was eager to get into the fight.

On August 14, 1917, Buckles visited an army recruiterin Oklahoma City and told him he was 17.

"The Army sergeant was dubious about my age, so he called the captain in, and the captain asked me some questions. I explained that at the time I was born there were no records kept - public records - the only record was in the family Bible, but I would expect to bring the family Bible down to the recruiting station. Okay."

Buckles said he wanted to see action quickly.

"Went to Fort Logan, Colorado, Fort Riley, Kansas. A wise old sergeant told me 'Don't go in the cavalry' - the 6th Cavalry was stationed there - 'you may end up in Texas. If you want to get overseas quickly, go in the ambulance corps.' And they took men who had some experience. I'd been driving an automobile since I was 12 years old. No license in those days."

He did then sailed for France on the Carpathia.

"The Carpathia was the ship that went to the rescue of the Titanic on the 15th of April 1912, which I had read about as a young boy and was very interested in. I talked to a number of the men who had served aboard during the rescue."

Buckles wound up working in a warehouse and never actually saw combat. He stayed in France after the war returning German soldiers back to their homes then returned home to Oklahoma City. He later worked for two steamship companies, and on December 8, 1941, he was in in Manila in the Philippine Islands.

Following the Japanese invasion of the Philippine Islands, Buckles was taken as a civilian prisoner by the Japanese then spent three years in a POW camp. Following his release at the end of the war, he said "I was never actually looking for adventure, it just came to me."

And on February 27 at the age of 110, Frank Buckles re-joined his fellow doughboys who had served over there.

You can learn more about our military history by visiting the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd Street just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past.

I'm Michael Dean.