Frank Buckles: What the last doughboy wanted for other veterans

The last surviving American soldier from World War I pointed to the problem all veterans face: Wars are too quickly forgotten

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Frank Buckles during 2008 Memorial Day activities at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Mo. Biographer and family spokesman David DeJonge said in a statement that Frank Woodruff Buckles died early Sunday in his home in Charles Town, W.Va.

One of the last things that Frank Buckles, the last surviving American soldier of World War I, asked was that other veterans not be forgotten when they arrive home.

Mr. Buckles, who died Sunday at his home in Charles Town, W. Va., at age 110 survived both World War I (known at the time as "the war to end war") and being held prisoner by Japan during the even worse war that followed it. Too quickly, he said, the old conflict is forgotten, along with its lessons and the men and women who fought it.

“In 1920, the parades had ended and America wanted to forget the war and move on,” he said in an interview with the Monitor last year. “For World War I vets, we were forgotten again in 1932 with the bonus march. Then World War II came and was all-consuming to the world.”

Every soldier who comes home from a war – as veterans of Iraq are now doing and of Afghanistan will soon be doing – faces the same challenge. Their experience in battle was intense, powerful, almost a kind of drug. The movie that won best picture in last year's Academy Awards, "The Hurt Locker," vividly illustrated the addiction that can war can breed.

Integrating soldiers back into civilian life has always been a fraught experience.

Mr. Buckles eventually settled into his West Virginia cattle farm. The last doughboy lived a peaceful life not far from the Civil War battlefields. He saw a century of war, including the latest ones, which now begin their slow fade into history.

“The best thing to honor our veterans,” he said, “is to stand behind them from the beginning of their military lives to the very end of their lives.”

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