Last known WWI veteran honored for Memorial Day - KSWO 7News | Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Last known WWI veteran honored for Memorial Day

Kansas City_Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last known living American-born veteran of World War I, was honored Sunday at the Liberty Memorial during Memorial Day weekend celebrations.

"I had a feeling of longevity and that I might be among those who survived, but I didn't know I'd be the No. 1," the 107-year-old veteran said at a ceremony to unveil his portrait.

His photograph was hung in the main hallway of the National World War I Museum, which he toured for the first time, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States presented him with a gold medal of merit.

On Monday, he will be presented the American flag flying outside the memorial.

Buckles, who now lives in Charles Town, W.Va., has been an invited guest at the Pentagon, met with President Bush in Washington, D.C., and rode in the annual Armed Forces Day Parade in his home state since his status as one of the last living from the "Great War" was discovered nearly two years ago.

Federal officials have also arranged for his burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Born in Missouri in 1901 and raised in Oklahoma, Buckles visited a string of military recruiters after the United States entered the "war to end all wars" in April 1917.

He was rejected by the Marines and the Navy, but eventually persuaded an Army captain he was 18 and enlisted, convincing him Missouri didn't keep public records of birth.

Buckles sailed for England in 1917 on the Carpathia, which is known for its rescue of Titanic survivors, and spent his tour of duty working mainly as a driver and a warehouse clerk in Germany and France. He rose to the rank of corporal and after Armistice Day he helped return prisoners of war to Germany.

Buckles later traveled the world working for the shipping company White Star Line and was in the Philippines in 1940 when the Japanese invaded. He became a prisoner of war for nearly three years.

Buckles gained notoriety when he attended a Veteran's Day ceremony at the Arlington grave of Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, who led U.S. forces in World War I, said his daughter, Susannah Flanagan.

He ended up on the podium and became a featured guest at the event, and the VIP invites and media interview requests came rolling in shortly afterward.

"This has been such a great surprise," Flanagan said. "You wouldn't think there would be this much interest in World War I. But the timing in history has been such and it's been unreal."

Buckles spent much of his museum tour Sunday looking at mementos of Pershing, whom he admired. He posed for pictures in front of a flag that used to be in Pershing's office and retold stories about meeting the famous general.

While Pershing claims most of the fame, Buckles now has a featured place at the museum.

"This is such an extraordinary occasion that we here at the museum decided that the photo of Mr. Buckles should be permanently installed in the main hallway here" said Brian Alexander, the museum's president and chief executive.

Brian Charlton, AP Writer © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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