Yesterday, February 1, 2011, Frank Buckles turned 110. That in itself is an accomplishment, since the man, for one thing, has suffered from the effects of beriberi most of his life. A disease common in men being starved to death in a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines during the second world war. But what makes Frank Buckles even more unique is he is the last living doughboy from WWI. Yeah that’s a “one”.
He lied about his age, 16, and looked more like a boy scout in his uniform than he did a fighting soldier. He volunteered as an ambulance driver because he knew it would get him to the front, in the thick of it, where he wanted to be.
Frank doesn’t give interviews anymore, but he has mounted one final fight. His cause is the creation of a National World War I Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC. Now it might surprise you that there is not a monument on the Mall to World War I. But in fact there is a memorial to the 499 from the District of Columbia that died in the conflict. It was dedicated in 1931.
War memorials were usually in the communities that the fallen called home. It wasn’t until 1982 that the Mall unveiled the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the first national memorial to America’s fallen heroes. That was followed by the national memorial to the veterans of the “The War To End All Wars,” WWII, and then the National Korean War Memorial which was dedicated on July 27, 1995.
When I visited the Mall, I found it to be the most moving monument of them all. You walk along side a bigger than life-size squad of soldiers in full battle gear on dawn patrol. They are representative of all the services; Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy.