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American WWI Veterans: And Then There Was One...

LongIsland.com

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One American out of over four-million who served during the WWI era is still alive. One, who is all but forgotten by most, and his name is Frank Woodruff Buckles. The following was taken from information provided by James Tichacek's RAO Bulletin, and Larry Scott's VA Watchdog dot Org, who presented articles by Newsweek's Tony Dokoupil and The Associated Press' Vicki Smith. They said it as well as anyone could.

Our American World War I Veteran

Of the 2 million American soldiers sent to the trenches during World War I, only Frank Woodruff Buckles is still alive. The retired Army corporal, who turned 107 this month, is all that prevents the First World War from slipping into the secondhand past. Harry Landis, the only other known WWI veteran, died at 108 last week in Tampa, Fla. We're about to "lose a living touchstone of history," says Bob Patrick, director of the Library of Congress's Veterans History Project. Yet the United States has no firm or official plans to mark the passing of its last WWI veteran. "Frankly, we're trying to keep the focus on the living," says Phil Budahan, director of media relations for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Britain plans to hold an elaborate ceremony at Westminster Abbey when the last of its three remaining WWI veterans die. Canada and France, which each have one remaining veteran, have also announced plans to hold a state funeral. In fact, America's plans are more akin to those of its wartime enemy, Germany, whose last veteran died last month at 107 without official fanfare.

In America, the First World War remains a largely forgotten conflict. It has no national monument on the Washington Mall, no blockbuster film, no iconic image equivalent to soldiers' raising the flag on Iwo Jima. There wasn't even a reliable list of living veterans until a writer, researching a book about the war's place in the shadows, tallied one for himself in 2004. "Nobody -- not the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion -- knew how many there were," says Richard Rubin, author of the forthcoming book "The Last of the Doughboys." As far as he could tell, "that chapter of history was closed." For now, the primarily privately funded World War One Museum in Kansas City, Mo., is the only national institution with plans to commemorate the end of the Doughboy generation. "We just don't know what that means yet," says Denise Rendina, a spokeswoman for the museum. The VA says that all plans must come from Congress, while the White House Commission on Remembrance, the agency officially tasked with honoring "America's fallen," says it will invite Buckles to join a national flag-raising tour that began in December. There's just one problem: the touring flag is from a World War II memorial.

Frank Buckles is 107 now and not as spry as he used to be. But try to help him from a chair to his feet, and he will bellow a loud, clear "No." Ninety years after the headstrong teenager lied his way into a uniform, then the European theater of World War I, the older version of that boy remains fiercely independent, determined to live life on his terms, at his pace. Buckles moves slowly now, his small frame stooped. Both ears require mechanical assistance, but his mind is sharp, with names and numbers from the early part of the 20th century slipping readily from his tongue. He speaks Spanish and German, even surprising a visitor of Filipino descent with a warm send-off in Tagalog, a remnant of 3 1/2 years spent as a civilian prisoner of war in the Philippines during World War II. His living room is full of mementos, commendations and photos, including one of French President Jacques Chirac presenting Buckles a Legion of Honor medal in 1999. Buckles was born Feb. 1, 1901, near Bethany, Mo., and raised on a farm. At 15, he delivered a load of horses to Oklahoma, landed a job at a bank and moved into a hotel. When the U.S. entered the war in April 1917, "I wanted to get out and do something," he remembers. But he was only 16. He enlisted Aug. 14, 1917, serial number 15577, stating his age as 21. Buckles went to Fort Logan, Colo., then Fort Riley, Kan., before boarding a ship to England. There, he worked mainly as a warehouse clerk and a driver, using off-duty hours to visit statues, cathedrals, tombs and museums. "But I was still trying to get to France," Buckles says, "and I would pester every officer of any rank to get there." After a few months, he landed an assignment escorting an officer to France, where he used his down time to cruise the countryside on a bicycle. After Armistice Day, Buckles helped return prisoners of war to Germany. In January 1920, he returned to the States aboard the USS Pocahontas with $143.90 in his pocket. For his part, Buckles rejected his father's suggestion that he go back to school. He noticed how quickly Army field clerks had been promoted, so he signed up for training in shorthand and typing, working a night job at an Oklahoma City post office for 60 cents an hour. When he'd saved up $100, he hopped a train to Toronto, where he rented a room for $3 a week, wrote letters and landed a string of jobs over two years. Then he moved to New York, where he worked in banking and advertising. But it was the shipping industry that suited him best, and he explored the west coast of South America while working for W.R. Grace & Co. "I knew every port all the way down and most of the interior cities. You had to memorize them and know where they were," Buckles says. "In those days, when you'd leave New York, you're on your own. You've got to know the business 'cause ... nobody calls you on the telephone." Then in 1941, while on business in the Philippines, the man who had tried so hard to reach the front lines of World War I was captured by the Japanese, a civilian prisoner of World War II. A man who brought him food during those 3 1/2 years became a lifelong friend, well after Buckles had returned home, married and raised a daughter. When the Filipino man's three daughters were old enough, it was Buckles who paid their college tuition. "I was never actually looking for adventure," Buckles says. "It just came to me."

This Week's Not Commented on Story - On The Upbeat Side, For Once

LIBERTY TAX SERVICE FILES FREE "REBATE" RETURNS FOR DISABLED VETS WHO HAVE NO TAX LIABILITY -- "Liberty Tax Service wants to help people who do not normally have to file a return get the rebate they are entitled to receive." If you are eligible for a payment, all you have to do is file a 2007 tax return. Liberty Tax Service is offering to prepare tax returns at no charge for select taxpayers who have no tax liability. Low income workers, or those who receive Social Security benefits or veterans' disability compensation, pension or survivors benefits received from the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2007 will be eligible to receive a payment of $300 ($600 on a joint return) if they had at least $3,000 of qualifying income. Qualifying income includes Social Security benefits, certain Railroad Retirement benefits, certain veterans' benefits, and earned income, such as income from wages, salaries, tips and self-employment. While these people might not normally be required to file a tax return because they do not meet the filing requirement, they must file a 2007 return in order to receive a rebate. "Liberty Tax Service wants to help people who do not normally have to file a return get the rebate they are entitled to receive. Many people who receive Social Security and veterans benefits are likely to overlook this opportunity to get the stimulus payment. Last year, over 30 million taxpayers missed the telephone excise tax credit that was due to them. We don't want that to occur with the tax stimulus package," states John Hewitt, CEO of Liberty Tax Service.

--- Regards, Walt Schmidt