I was surprised to hear that there are four surviving American veterans of WWI still with us (Washington Post/Wikipedia), and in the shadow of Veterans Day, it only seems appropriate to tell their stories.
Frank Buckles enlisted in Kansas (illegally – he was 16, but claimed his home state of Missouri didn’t issue birth certificates) in 1917, and was sent to France as a member of the ambulance corps. When the next war broke out, although no longer in uniform, he, “…found work as a purser on a White Star Line steamship and accepted an assignment to help expedite cargo shipments in World War II. He was in Manila when the city fell to the Japanese and spent three years and two months in Japanese camps.” (Washingon Post) He is 106.
J. Russell Coffey, born and raised in Ohio, joined in the last days of WWI, and was discharged shortly after the war ended. After the war he earned his doctorate and taught until 1969 – but he drove he until he was 103. He is 109 now. (Columbus Dispatch)
Harry Richard Landis, another Missouri native, also joined too late to serve overseas (the war ended three months after he enlisted). He is 107 and lives in Florida. At a recent ceremony at which he was being honored, he told, “…how he had seen 19 of the nation’s 43 presidents take office. He has experienced two world wars along with other wars, the Depression and advancements in technology that most likely surpassed the science fiction of his youth.” (Hannibal Courier Post)
John Babcock was born in Canada and joined the Canadian Army at age 16. He was sent to England to train, but didn’t get to France – he was too young. He moved to the U.S. and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1921, eventually becoming a naturalized citizen. He learned to fly at age 65 and received his high school dipoloma at age 95. He is 107 and the last surviving WWI Canadian veteran. (KOMO)
These veterans have lived in three different centuries, and have witnessed the invention and introduction of virtually everything we take for granted today. They have seen many, many changes. But the important things – family, friends, faith, health, happiness, patriotism – remain the foundation upon which our country thrives. Something else hasn’t changed – these men joined up 90 years ago to preserve those very things, and our men and women join up for the same reason today.
To these veterans of WWI, we salute you, and wish you well. As the Vice Commander of Mountain Home AFB said in a Veterans Day ceremony this weekend, today’s troops stand on your shoulders. You are our heroes of the week.