This is a great story for Independence Day. Frank Buckles is the last surviving American veteran of WWI, having been born in 1901 and enlisted in the Army at the age of 17. Stationed first in England and then in France, Buckles had many roles including serving as a diver on the ship that a few years earlier had rescued the survivors of the Titanic shipwreck and as an ambulance driver, later repurposed from duty as battlefield casualty transport to POW transport back to Germany following the Armistice.
Were Buckles story to end there is would have been honorable and otherwise uneventful but Buckles returned to Europe following the war to reside in Germany in the 1930s, leaving in 1938 after witnessing the beginning of the Holocaust. Moving on to the Philippines as an employee of an American shipping company, Buckles was captured and detained on December 8, 1941 by the Japanese for 3 1/2 years in conditions that are now known to be horrendous.
In 1945 the camp that Buckles was interned in, Los Baños, was liberated by a daring raid by the 11th Airborne Division. Over 2,100 prisoners were liberated, including Buckles. Following his return to the U.S., Buckles met a woman and got married, moving to a farm in West Virginia where he still lives today.
Here’s the part of the story that really grabbed me, Buckles’ great grandfather was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. In this one man we see the living embodiment of the entire spectrum of U.S. history, participant and bearing witness to the defining events of the 20th century.