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They called it the "war to end all wars"; 4.7 million Americans went over there to Europe in the great World War I, and 116,000 of them never came home. When they arrived back in the United States in 1918, thousands of them died from the flu that they had contracted in France. They called them "doughboys" because of the look of their uniform. One such person was an individual by the name of Frank Buckles.
Frank Buckles lied to get into the United States Army. He was 16. And he went from recruiter to recruiter to recruiter and finally convinced somebody he was 21. He got into the United States Army and went over there with the doughboys to end the war to end all wars. He drove an ambulance and rescued other Americans who were fighting that great war. He said, We were typical cocky Americans. No one wanted us around until the French and the British needed some help winning that war. And just 19 months after the first Yanks arrived, the guns fell silent.
Yes, that war ended on November 11, 1918. But that wasn't all for Frank Buckles. After he was discharged from the United States Army in 1918, he found himself in a place called Manila in the Philippines on December 8, 1941, when the Japanese attacked--the day after Pearl Harbor--and Frank Buckles was captured by the Japanese. For the next 39 months he was held as a prisoner of war in a Japanese concentration camp. He was finally freed on February 23, 1945, the day the Japanese had ordered his execution.
Frank Buckles is the last surviving doughboy from World War I. On Monday, he was 109 years old. He lives not far from here. Until he was 101, he drove his tractor on his farm in West Virginia. At this time I would like to insert into the Record a letter he wrote to the American people on Memorial Day of last year.
Last World War I Vet Frank Buckles' Memorial Day Letter to Americans
(The following is a letter from Frank Buckles to the American Veterans Center and National Memorial Day Parade on Memorial Day, 2009.)
DEAR AMERICANS: Though I am unable to be in our great nation's capitol today to pay honor to the many men and women who have fought and died protecting our freedom, I want you to know the depth of my gratitude to our service members and the deep personal significance Memorial Day has to me.
In 1918, I was sure there would never be another world war. But just 23 years later--the day after Pearl Harbor--I became one of 2,000 civilians who would spend the next 3 and a half years in a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines.
I was born in 1901 during the McKinley Administration in the heartland of America. I was thirteen when World War I broke out in Europe. For me the decision to join the service was an easy one. The hard part was finding someone who'd let me join.
I was just 16 and didn't look a day older. I confess to you that I lied to more than one recruiter. I gave them my solemn word that I was 18, but I'd left my birth certificate back home in the family Bible. They'd take one look at me and laugh and tell me to home before my mother noticed I was gone.
Somehow I got the idea that telling an even bigger whopper was the way to go. So I told the next recruiter that I was 21 and darned if he didn't sign me up on the spot! I enlisted in the Army on the 14th of August 1917. As a 16-year-old boy, you think you're invincible and I wanted to go where the action was.
One of the older sergeants told me the fastest way to get to France was to go into the Ambulance Corp