Editor’s Note: Centenarians of Oklahoma is a senior citizen volunteer group that honors residents of the state who have lived 100 years or longer. The group provided this article for Veterans Day, 2019, which will be next Monday.
Veteran’s Day was established in 1919 to celebrate the end of World War I. The World War I Armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, ending the war. It was originally called “Armistice Day.” In 1954 Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day in order to honor all veterans.
This Veterans Day, Centenarians of Oklahoma would like to honor Centenarian, Frank Buckles, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 110.
Frank “Wood” Buckles was born on a Missouri farm in 1901. His family later moved to Oakland, Oklahoma, near Madill. Long before Lake Texoma was built, Frank Buckles stepped out of Oakland Oklahoma and onto the world stage and just kept going. In 1917 at the age of 16, he lied about his age and tried to enlist in the Marines, but was rejected because he was too small. Again, he lied to the Navy and was rejected because he had flat feet. Finally, he was accepted by the Army.
Frank was eager to see some action on the Western Front. He was told the quickest way to ge there was to volunteer as an ambulance driver. After basic training Frank found himself on his way to Europe aboard the RMS Carpathia, the same ship that rescued the survivors of the Titanic. There was no end to the need for Buckles’ services with more than two million U.S. soldiers in combat and a staggering 116,516 wounded or ill soldiers.
Shortly after the war Buckles met General of the Armies, John J. Pershing, while in attendance at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. He described General Pershing and “the most military figure I’ve ever met.”
Having completed his military service Buckles took a job with the White Star Cruise Lines. He traveled the world and became fluent in German, Spanish, Portuguese, French and later some Japanese. While on leave in Germany he saw Jesse Owens win four gold medals for the USA. During this visit he had a chance encounter with Adolf Hitler on the steps of his hotel. He was surprised at the lack of security surrounding him.
Buckles left the cruise line to work in the shipping industry. He found himself in Manila, Philippines when World War II broke out. Although he had the option to leave he made the decision to stay, thinking his contacts in the shipping industry could be useful in getting supplies to the U.S Troops. In 1942 he was captured by the Japanese and spent the next three years as a civilian detainee. It was during this time he learned to speak some Japanese. As the war came to a close it was feared that the Japanese might massacre their detainees. Combat troops mad a daring paratrooper assault and Buckles and other detainees were rescued.
After the war Buckles married and bought a 330 acre farm where he spent the rest of his life. At the age of 106 he was still driving his tractor, when his only child, Savanah, moved home to help him.
Frank Buckles received many honors during his life. He was identified as the oldest World War I Veteran. In 2007 he led the Memorial Day Parade in Washington D.C. He was a White House guest of George W. Bush in 2008. He was the guest of Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense at the dedication of the World War I Exhibit. Buckles in the oldest person to have testified before Congress.
Frank Buckles stepped out of Oklahoma and into a life filled with duty, action, adventure, learning and satisfaction. He lived through two world wars. He watched as technology took use from the horse and buggy, to automobiles and then to the moon. He as well as other of his generation have seen the best of times and the worst of times. He passed from this life on February 27, 2011 at the age of 110. President Obama ordered flags flown at half-staff on all government builds and embassies. Buckles is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Plot 34.
If you know an Oklahoma citizen who is 100 years of age or older. Centenarians of Oklahoma would like to honor them (at no cost) with an award and a certificate. Contact Gloria at 918-510-0150.