Next year will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of what used to be called Armistice Day. On the 11th day of the 11th month, at the 11th hour of 1918 the “war to end all wars” officially came to an end. It was, in many ways, a war that no one won; everyone just realized that the only outcome would be the continued killing that would not change the stalemate.
The treaty of Versailles set the stage for the next world war that would commence only 21 years later. While everyone can recite an accurate history to the run up to World War II few can reconstruct the events that brought about World War I with much clarity, but we still commemorate its conclusion.
The last American survivor of “The Great War” was man by the name of Frank Woodruff Buckles. Born February 1, 1901 in Bethany, Missouri, he died February 27, 2011 at the age of 110. He had enlisted in the army at the age of 16 and served near the front lines in Europe as an ambulance and motorcycle driver.
Ironically, in World War II he was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines where he was working in a shipping business and spent three years as a civilian prisoner, an imprisonment he barely survived. On his release at the war’s end, he returned to the United States, married Audrey Mayo in San Francisco and then moved to Gap View Farm, near Charles Town, WV where he lived with his wife until she died in 1999. Their only child, a daughter, moved to the farm to attend him in his old age.
Buckles continued to farm until he was 105. He was awarded the World War I Victory Medal, the Army Occupation of Germany Medal when it was established in 1941, and the French Legion of Honor in 1999. Not eligible for burial in Arlington National Cemetery since he had not been in combat, Ross Perot intervened on his behalf; his memorial service and burial were attended by President Obama and Vice President Biden. His grave is near that of General John J. (Black Jack) Pershing.
Last week I had the honor of attending a service that brought to mind Veterans Day with unusual clarity. While everyone who was a participant in World War I is dead, the survivors of World War II are in decreasing numbers. Forty-nine veterans were present at the Brandon Oaks ceremony honoring the residents who reside there.
Most we were later wars but a number, including a member of the 116th regiment of the 29th infantry division. He was one of the survivors of D-day. Charles (Chuck) Nabors is his name and he wrote a book about his experiences, One Man’s War. Additionally, in attendance were a number of other survivors or World War II. Some had been prisoners of war; some had been shot down over enemy territory but escaped capture. Veterans of combat from Korea and Vietnam were present.
Presentation of the colors began the program, patriotic songs were sung, the names of the veterans were called out and their theater of service, remarks honoring them were delivered, each veteran was given a flag and a special card of thanks made by the residents and, in the usual Brandon Oaks tradition, refreshments were served.
All these men and women are now far removed from the service they rendered. In the foreseeable future all of the veterans of World War II will have gone to their reward, joining Cpl. Wood Buckles. While witnessing this ceremony, I was surprised to find such emotion surrounding everyone there. Honor and recognition are due to all those who have served and especially those who stand guard today over our liberty and freedom.
Our service men and women today are volunteers; not so for many of these older veterans. They were subject to the draft and I venture to say that most would identify their time in defense of our country as a life-changing experience.
Our country would be well served by reinstituting some form of government service for all able-bodied young men and women. It need not be in the military but in some government sponsored service such as was seen during the Depression in the WPA and the CCC. Working for the betterment of our country in a physical way would likely give the participants a better understanding of the privileges they enjoy which were so costly to those who secured them in military service.