11/11/2022 - Veterans Day Ceremony: Mayor's Remarks
Dear honored guests, friends, neighbors, and especially our esteemed Veterans,
Once again, we gather in this special place to recall the events of November 11, 1918 that ended World War I. That horrific conflict claimed the lives of 20 million people, over half of whom were civilians, and left another 21 million wounded individuals. Despite its late entry into the hostilities, the United States contributed close to 5 million soldiers to the war effort, with 116,000 lives lost through a combination of combat and disease.
Each American serviceman and woman has a unique story to tell. Today I would like to highlight the life of Frank Buckles of Bethany, Missouri, who has the distinction of having been the last surviving WWI veteran when he passed away in 2011 at the age of 110. Frank lived the simple but arduous life of a farm family and survived a serious bout of scarlet fever at age two that killed his four-year-old brother, Ashman. As he grew up, Frank continued his schooling, worked in a bank, and developed an interest in the emerging technology of wireless communication.
Soon after America entered World War I, Frank tried to enlist. Rejected by the Marine Corps as too small, then by the Navy because of flat feet, Frank was finally accepted by the Army. Wanting to get to the front lines as quickly as possible, Frank volunteered as an ambulance driver, serving in the 1st Fort Riley Casual Detachment, first in England and then in France. He was promoted to corporal, honorably discharged, and returned home in November of 1919.
Frank settled into a career in the shipping industry, working on various cargo and passenger ships serving South America, Europe, and Asia. It was in this capacity that World War II found Frank Buckles. His merchant ship was captured by the Japanese in Manila in early 1942, and Frank spent the next 38 months in a series of internment camps under brutal conditions, most notably a poor diet that reduced his weight to under 100 pounds. An outbreak of beriberi decimated the prison population, yet Buckles miraculously survived until his camp was liberated in February of 1945.
Frank Buckles returned to farm life near Charles Town, West Virginia, where his neighbors would constantly marvel at his skill at operating a large commercial tractor even at the age of 103! He was active in veteran’s organizations, and was a driving force behind the creation of the World War I monument in Washington, DC that opened in 2021 and is still under expansion. I am sure that the spirit of Frank Buckles will be with you should you have the chance to visit our National Mall and reflect on the lives of the countless American citizen-soldiers memorialized there.
Frank Buckles’ remarkable life of service and sacrifice ended on February 27, 2011. When relatives requested that he be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, they discovered to their dismay that Frank was not eligible for that honor because he had never actually seen combat. Showing the same determination that Frank had during two World Wars, his family pursued and eventually received special permission for an Arlington burial. The service took place with full military honors on March 15, 2011 with President Obama and Vice President Biden in attendance. Today Frank Buckles lies at rest in grave number 581, section 34, not far from another World War I notable, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. The two old warriors now share eternity.
The story of Frank Buckles is but one of the millions of men and women living and dead that have served America in both peace and war. They are ordinary citizens who saw a nation in need and responded selflessly. Most did their duty and returned home, picked up their lives, and rejoined society as successful and contributing members. Sadly, some made the ultimate sacrifice or suffered debilitating trauma that followed them into civilian life. On this day let us remember every veteran whose deeds protected and preserved the freedoms we as proud Americans hold so dear. Let us pledge our continued efforts to keep our veteran’s memories alive and ensure that the word “Veteran” continues to hold a place of honor in our national vocabulary.
Mayor Dennis Sullivan
November 11, 2022