The last doughboy: In memory of Frank Buckles
Archivists handle fascinating records, but the people who lived the lives recorded in the documents are even more fascinating. Such was the life of Frank Buckles, who passed away on February 27, aged 110.
Buckles’s passing means that there are no longer any living American servicemen who fought during World War I. Any memories and experiences from the Great War now exist only as written documents, recorded films, or still photographs.
In 2008, Richard Boylan and Mitch Yockelson (author of Borrowed Soldiers: Americans Under British Command) of the National Archives, made a special visit to West Virginia to meet World War I veteran Frank Buckles.
Military archivist Boylan came up with the idea of marking the 90th anniversary of the last year of World War I by presenting copies of National Archives records to the two still-living veterans. But in early January 2008, Harry Richard Landis passed away and Frank became the sole surviving soldier from World War I.
Buckles had enlisted in the Army by giving his age as 18, rather than his actual age of 16. He was stationed in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. The two archivists were able to locate over 50 pages of textual records regarding his service. Private researcher Susan Strange found 57 photographs of the area in Winchester, England, where he was stationed, as well as some motion picture footage of the ship on which Buckles sailed home in 1919.
Boylan and Yockelson traveled to West Virginia, where Buckles lived with his daughter, and presented the veteran with copies of his records and the photographs and footage. The archivists were delighted to meet Buckles, who they said was “gracious, alert, and fascinating to converse with.”
The National Archives holds documents, films, and photographs from World War I in safekeeping—but they are meant to be accessed and studied. If Buckles’s story has inspired you to research your family’s service records or simply to learn more about this terrible conflict, you can visit our research rooms or search our online resources for veterans’ records.