Published May 2007 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd West Virginia's WWI Veteran Is America's Hero Apri16, 2007, marked the 90th anniversary of America's entrance into World War I. That historic conflict marked America's arrival onto the world stage, and our emergence as a global superpower.
Nearly 5 million Americans served in the U.S. military during that "war to end all wars." Only four are still living. I am proud to say that one of them is a hale and hearty West Virginian, my friend Frank Woodruff Buckles of Charles Town.
In 1917, Private Frank Buckles boldly stepped forward to serve the Army as a doughboy. He was so compelled to serve that -- at the age of 16 -- he lied about his age in order to enlist, and served his country in England and France. But the drama of his life, as compelling as any novel or film, did not end with his official military service.
His work on a commercial steamship took him to Nazi Germany, where he attended the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. There, Frank Buckles saw German Chancellor Adolph Hitler bristle with embarrassment as the great Jesse Owens won four gold medals for the United States.
His maritime career landed him in the Philippines in 1940, where he was working in Manila when the Japanese invaded. Mr. Buckles was captured and spent the next 3 years in Japanese prison camps where, although a civilian, he was treated as a prisoner of war. At dawn on February 23, 1945, the same day that the American flag was raised on Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi, the 11th Airborne Division liberated Mr. Buckles and his fellow prisoners.
In 1954, Frank Buckles and his wife, Audrey, moved to a 330-acre farm in the West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, the same area where his ancestor, Robert Buckles, had settled in 1732. For more than five decades, Mr. Buckles has continued to operate his beloved farm.
Today, at the age of 106, this sturdy West Virginian is still going strong and will proudly serve as Grand Marshal of the World War I section of the Memorial Day parade in Washington D.C.
West Virginia is blessed with so many examples of men and women of extraordinary character and bravery. We should salute people like Frank Buckles -- and the thousands of people whose names are not so well known -- for their inspiring commitment and sacrifice, keeping them close to our hearts and always in our prayers.
May 23, 2007