Patterico's Pontifications


The Day History Died… (Update: Video Added)

Filed under: General — Aaron Worthing @ 7:43 am

[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.]

Update: We have video, below the fold.

The last living World War I veteran from the United States has died:

Frank W. Buckles died early Sunday, sadly yet not unexpectedly at age 110, having achieved a singular feat of longevity that left him proud and a bit bemused.

In 1917 and 1918, close to 5 million Americans served in World War I, and Mr. Buckles, a cordial fellow of gentle humor, was the last known survivor. “I knew there’d be only one someday,” he said a few years back. “I didn’t think it would be me.”

His daughter, Susannah Buckles Flanagan, said Mr. Buckles, a widower, died of natural causes on his West Virginia farm, where she had been caring for him.

Buckles’ distant generation was the first to witness the awful toll of modern, mechanized warfare. As time thinned the ranks of those long-ago U.S. veterans, the nation hardly noticed them vanishing, until the roster dwindled to one ex-soldier, embraced in his final years by an appreciative public.

“Frank was a history book in and of himself, the kind you can’t get at the library,” said his friend, Muriel Sue Kerr. Having lived from the dawn of the 20th century, he seemed to never tire of sharing his and the country’s old memories – of the First World War, of roaring prosperity and epic depression, and of a second, far more cataclysmic global conflict, which he barely survived.

Read the whole thing.  In the march of time, we constantly lose one of our most precious resources: the men and women who were eyewitnesses to the events most us only read in schoolbooks.  Although the family rightfully mourns him just as a man, and we as a nation give him our thanks for his service, we also mourn that now there is no one alive today, who can tell us what it was like to fight for America in the so-called “War to End All Wars.”

Godspeed, Mr. Buckles.

Update: Via Hot Air, we get two moving videos.  One is a news feature on him:

The other is a trailer for a documentary about him.

Buckles might be silent today, but this documentarian preserved his voice and his memories, to a certain degree. I personally think that is a very good reason to see this movie—to reward that effort and to encourage others to make a similar effort in the future.

[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

25 Responses to “The Day History Died… (Update: Video Added)”

  1. What amazes me about this sort of thing, there are still plenty of people who had a chance to meet civil war veterans (Oliver Wendell Holmes, for instance died in 1935). There are likely still a few people alive who had a chance to meet people who had themselves known veterans of the War of 1812 and possibly even the revolution.

    Then to think of this going forward. How long until the last person who had a chance to meet Mr.Buckles dies.? The span of lifetimes is an incredible thing.

    Soronel Haetir (c12482)

  2. Amazingly he also spent a large part of WWII in a Japenese concentration camp.

    Have Blue (854a6e)

  3. Soronel,

    Yes, that connection with the seemingly distant past has fascinated me. I’m 49 years old and in 1985, I met a man in his late 80s whose father had worked as an overseer on a slave owning plantation. He told me of trips his father took down steamboats to New Orleans.

    Les Smith (1cfeac)

  4. Les


    EricPWJohnson (baa24f)

  5. Which high-ranking official from the current administration will honor Mr. Buckles at his funeral services?

    AD-RtR/OS! (30e200)

  6. As one of my college professors used to say, tempus is fugiting.

    Assuming a minimum age of 18 in 1945, the youngest veterans of World War II are already 84 years old, and even the youngest Vietnam veterans are 56 years old.

    The Dana who's getting older (3e4784)

  7. Godspeed, Mr. Buckles.


    Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
    and let perpetual light shine upon him.
    May he rest in peace.


    Pamela (6535a5)

  8. “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away!”

    Best wishes at your next posting.

    AD-RtR/OS! (30e200)

  9. #1 James Burke, during one of his original Connections episodes noted that we are only three grandfathers removed from the American revolution. That means your grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather was alive during the war.

    My grandmother saw much history as well. Born in Ireland in 1900, she went through Ellis Island as a child, lost her first husband in the Great war, lost her first child and much of her siblings to the Spanish Flu, lost her second husband (my grandfather) in WWII and only died in 1994. My great grandmother is an even more spectacular story. She was born in 1872, came here in her early 30’s and lived until 1976! She actually had cousins which died in the potato famine!

    East Coast Chris (c31a9b)

  10. My grandfather was born in 1899, just a year or two before Mr. Buckles. I was hoping he would make it to 2001. That way he could say he had lived in three centuries.

    Alas, he had very poor eating habits; it was amazing that he made it to 88 before succumbing.

    I want to know what Mr. Buckles secret was. Or is it just DNA?

    norcal (b13c77)

  11. ***
    I met an 85 year old WW2 vet neighbor a few weeks ago–he is dying of liver cancer–a brave man. He was a young draftee truck driver in the European Theater. When Nazi Germany fell he was one of the occupation guys. He met a Russian Ukraneian woman there and married her. He tells about the horrible stench of death that permeated all Germany then.
    He is writing a book on his experiences now. He finished a career in the U.S. Air Force, and then went to University and became a middle school teacher. He is a widower, and he has an F-16 fighter pilot grandson and an Army Ranger grandson.
    I will be helping him out when his daughter has to return to her normal life. Brave guys who gave us our freedom. As he goes to rejoin his wife in the near future.

    John Bibb (193f6e)

  12. A Buckles movie is inevitable. Hopefully it won’t be made by Oliver Stone or some such hack.

    L.N. Smithee (e1449a)

  13. ditto.

    Torquemada (2a42d3)

  14. If you haven’t already, look up the book “Unbroken” and read about another historic veteran, I”m going to buy my copy through the link here.

    MD (from UW-Madison) in Philly (3d3f72)

  15. What amazes me about this sort of thing, there are still plenty of people who had a chance to meet civil war veterans (Oliver Wendell Holmes, for instance died in 1935). There are likely still a few people alive who had a chance to meet people who had themselves known veterans of the War of 1812 and possibly even the revolution.

    Then to think of this going forward. How long until the last person who had a chance to meet Mr.Buckles dies.? The span of lifetimes is an incredible thing.

    Comment by Soronel Haetir — 2/28/2011 @ 8:44 am

    Over the weekend, I watched a short film called “The Color Orange” (produced by country superstar Kenny Chesney) about Condredge Holloway, the first black quarterback to play for the University of Tennessee (1972-1974). Among the persons interviewed was the first Tennessee player at any position to break the all-white color line, Lester McClain (1968). McClain — now an insurance agency owner in Nashville — said that he was born when his father was 50 years old. His grandfather, Lester said, was 50 years old when father was born. And his great-grandfather was born a slave.

    L.N. Smithee (e1449a)

  16. That was a very interesting show, LN.

    JD (d48c3b)

  17. Not as good as the 30×30 on Marcus Dupree, but very good, nonetheless.

    JD (85b089)

  18. Stand down, good and faithful servant.

    And Godspeed Army.

    John P. Squibob (882a08)

  19. I saw some short segment that included this guy within the last few weeks. IIRC, this man was one of 3 or 4 surviving WWI vets, and the only American among the bunch.

    Scott Jacobs (d027b8)

  20. One of our neighbors is one of the first rangers to scale the cliffs at Omaha Beach. A WW1 veteran I interviewed for a county history book repeated war stories a veteran of the Indian wars told him. One of my aunts knew former slaves. My parents lived through the Depression and Dust Bowl. MY grandmother repeated the story of Abraham Lincoln’s visit to a New York school to show off his new beard. Her grandmother said Lincoln’s voice was rather high pitched.

    My connections to the past are not unique. Most of you can match mine. Please, if you have not already done so, record your stories for the future.

    James (1003cd)

  21. the only purpose in me making this comment is to help people notice I added video to the post.


    Aaron Worthing (73a7ea)

  22. Not everyone who lives through great events cares to tell their stories.

    My paternal grandparents were born about the same time–possibly a year or two earlier–as Mr. Buckles in Kishinev (then in the Russian province of Bessarabia, now in Moldava with a Rumanian/Moldavan spelling I don’t quite remember.) They and their families therefore as children witnessed the great pogrom that occurred there which has come to epitomize late Czarist Russian’s anti-semitic violence; they never said a word about it to any of their four children. My grandfather spent WWI as a civilian in Paris, and never said anything to anyone about that. In fact, the only “living history” in the family lore is about the cousins who hid from the Nazis in a neighbor’s oven (it was a very big one, large enough for a commercial bakery) and eventually crossed the entire breadth of the Soviet Union and China, most of it on foot, until they fetched up in Shanghai and then made it to the US. (They were the only branch of the family that survived the Nazis.)
    There’s also the story of how my grandfather (the same one)swapped ties with JFK when the latter made a campaign stop at a deli while my grandfather was eating lunch there, and how my maternal grandfather used to walk back forth to work across the entire city of Boston during the Depression because the nickel fare each way made too big a dent in the family budget.
    My mother’s parents, being proud immigrants, chose to get married on July 4, 1911, a hundred years ago–although my grandmother delayed becoming a citizen until thirty years later, and when she did, it was because she wanted to have the chance to vote for FDR.
    Whom, btw, my mother saw once in Boston, and (according to her) it was quite obvious he was unable to walk, despite the current historical buzz that claims he went to great lengths to hide that fact.
    I’m named, ultimately, after my great grandparents, who were born in what is now Belarus during the 1850s and died in Boston in the 1940s. (They were, like my paternal grandparents, forced into arranged marriages: for the last ten years of his life, my great grandfather did not speak to my great-grandmother because he disliked her so much. My grandfather merely became an alcoholic.) They came to the US sometime in the late 1890s, with nine children, of whom my grandmother was one of the youngest; she caught typhoid at Ellis Island and was almost sent back to Russia. But no one seemed to talk about life in Russia, so no stories filtered down to me from that far back.
    Come to think of it, none of my grandparents seemed to have ever talked about life in Russia to their children, and both sets raised all their children solely as English speakers, despite the fact that all four were born in Russia, and three of those were in their late teens when they arrived in the US, and both pairs of grandparents spoke Yiddish between themselves–although eventually my maternal grandfather spoke Yiddish with a Boston accent.
    here endeth my rambling record.
    Yaakov (great grandfather) Baruch (great grandmother) ben Pinchas ben Benyamin (grandfather) ha-Kishinevi (so now you know how I got my nom de blog)

    kishnevi (cc1ec4)

  23. Buckles’ distant generation was the first to witness the awful toll of modern, mechanized warfare

    Perhaps that’s an excusable exaggeration. No detraction from Buckles, but his generation was the grandchild of the Civil War, which was arguably more awful and nearly as mechanized as WWI. The US suffered 600,000 Civil War vs 116,000 WWI casualties.

    Insufficiently Sensitive (b6274d)

  24. Found this after I posted the above comment. Although not directly related to WWI or Mr. Buckles, it does tie with the post:

    kishnevi (a95600)

  25. My dad was in his late twenties when his grandfathers died. Both served in the Union army and saw combat in the Civil War. And in another twenty years or so somebody will be writing about the last WW2 guy.

    glenn (2a84e9)

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