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May 26, 2008
The Last Doughboy
George F. Will has an outstanding column today about the very last surviving veteran of World War I:It seems incredible to me because when I was a kid, World War I vets - "The Great War" they called it - were all over the place including my grandfather who fought in the famous "Rainbow Division" in the conflict. I can also recall those vets marching in Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades.
Numbers come precisely from the agile mind and nimble tongue of Frank Buckles, who seems bemused to say that 4,734,991 Americans served in the military during America's involvement in the First World War and that 4,734,990 are gone. He is feeling fine, thank you for asking.
The eyes of the last doughboy are still sharp enough for him to be a keen reader, and his voice is still deep and strong at age 107. He must have been a fine broth of a boy when, at 16, persistence paid off and he found, in Oklahoma City, an Army recruiter who believed, or pretended to, the fibs he had unavailingly told to Marine and Navy recruiters in Kansas about being 18. He grew up on a Missouri farm, not far from where two eminent generals were born -- John "Black Jack" Pershing and Omar Bradley.
"Boys in the country," says Buckles, "read the papers," so he was eager to get into the fight over there. He was told that the quickest way was to train for casualty retrieval and ambulance operations. Soon he was headed for England aboard the passenger ship Carpathia, which was celebrated for having, five years earlier, rescued survivors from the Titanic.
Buckles never saw combat, but "I saw the results." He seems vague about only one thing: What was the First World War about?
The last surviving enlistee in the Civil War died when I was two years old in 1956. He was a drummer boy as I recall. And now we have the last surviving veteran of World War I at 107 years young.
Thanks for your service, Mr. Buckles.