The Last Doughboy: Remembering Frank Buckles

Published: 18 February 2024

By Edwin Fountain
Special to the Doughboy Foundation website

Buckles framed

Frank Woodruff Buckles, February 1, 1901 – February 27, 2011 (Photo by David DeJonge.)

In 2008, I connected with a Michigan photographer named David DeJonge.  David and I both wanted to restore the D.C. War Memorial located on the National Mall, and our discussions about that initiative soon turned to advocacy for a national World War I Memorial in the nation’s capital.

Frank Buckles at the District of Columbia War Memorial in 2008. (Photo by David DeJonge.)

David had recently completed a project of photographing the last surviving American veterans of World War I, who numbered about a dozen at that time.  One of those veterans was Frank Buckles.

Frank Buckles in his WWI uniform. (Photo courtesy of the Buckles family.)

Mr. Buckles had come to Washington for the opening of an exhibit of David’s photographs at the Pentagon, and while he was in Washington he visited the D.C. War Memorial.  The cracked flagstones around the memorial were difficult for him to navigate in his wheelchair, and he commented that the memorial ought to be fixed up.

David DeJonge and I subsequently formed the World War I Memorial Foundation, which Mr. Buckles agreed to serve as the foundation’s honorary chairman.  After the D.C. War Memorial was restored with funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Foundation focused on advocacy for a national WWI memorial.  On the day of the first Senate committee hearing on legislation introduced by Rep. Ted Poe and others, Judge Poe secured a Senate conference room, where dozens of Senators, Members of Congress, and other Hill staffers came by to pay their respects to Mr. Buckles and have their picture taken with him.

Later that day, at the age of 108, Mr. Buckles testified before a Senate committee on the need for a national U.S. memorial to the Great War – the oldest person ever to testify before Congress.

Mr. Buckles was featured on numerous various national print and TV news outlets, and was named ABC’s World News Tonight‘s “Person of the Week” and appeared on the cover of Parade magazine on March 22, 2009, in recognition of his advocacy for the memorial.

I firmly believe that the attention he brought to the cause was a major factor in the National Park Service making funds available to restore the D.C. War Memorial, and in the eventual passage of legislation authorizing a National WWI memorial.

Frank W. Buckles (center) during his testimony on December 3, 2009, before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, subcommittee on national parks. Buckles was 108 years old when testifying in support of building a National World War I Memorial in Washington, DC. (U.S. Department of Defense photo by C. Todd Lopez.)

I had a couple occasions to visit Mr. Buckles at his 330-acre farm outside Charles Town, W. Va., where he lived with his daughter Susannah  One of the remarkable things about Mr. Buckles – in addition to lying about his age to volunteer in World War I, and then later spending 3 ½ years in a Japanese civilian internment camp in the Philippines during World War II – was the fact that he was riding a tractor and winning awards for “green” farming past the age of 100.

Mr. Buckles died on February 27, 2011, at the age of 110, four years before Congress authorized the creation of a national WWI memorial.  He has remained in the forefront of our thoughts all the way, and I will think of him on September 13 when we dedicate the memorial that he helped inspire.

Edwin Fountain is General Counsel for the American Battle Monuments Commission. He previously served as a Commissioner on the United States World War I Centennial Commission.

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