“Without heroes we are all plain people, and we do not know how far we can go.”…Bernard Malamud
Today is Veterans Day. Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, and commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front…which took effect on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. The First World War was known as “the War to End All Wars” because it was the bloodiest war in history up to that point. After 4 years of horrific trench fighting, 9 million soldiers had died, and 21 million had been wounded.
In many parts of the world, a two-minute moment of silence is observed at 11:00 AM as a sign of respect and remembrance for the 20 million people who died in World War I.
Following World War II and the Korean War, at the urging of the American veterans' service organizations, the 83rd Congress struck out the word “Armistice” and inserted “Veterans.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation on October 8th, 1954.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there are 22,795,000 veterans living today. Vietnam Vets account for the largest proportion at 7,569,000. About 2 million World War II veterans remain, although their numbers are dwindling…with approximately 1000 dying each day.
Frank Buckles, at 109, is the last surviving American veteran of World War I. Born on a farm in Missouri in February 1901, he saw his first automobile in 1905, and his first airplane at the Illinois State Fair in 1907. Buckles enlisted in the Army in 1917 at the age of 16, lying about his age. He was sent to England and spent much of the war as a driver, delivering dispatches and driving the occasional ambulance. After the armistice, Buckles escorted 650 German P.O.W.’s back to Germany. Seeing his young age, the prisoners “adopted” him, taught him German and gave him food from their Red Cross packages. When Buckles visited Germany in the 1930's, while working for a steamship company, it was difficult for him to reconcile his fond memories of the German P.O.W.'s with what he saw of life under the Third Reich.
In 1941, Buckles was running the Manila office of the American President Lines. Taken prisoner when the Japanese invaded the Philippines, he spent 39 months in prison camps. Although he developed beriberi caused by malnutrition, and his weight slipped dangerously below 100 lbs., Buckles led his fellow prisoners in a daily calisthenics class.
Today, Frank Buckles lives near Charles Town, West Virginia where he purchased a 330-acre farm in 1953. When Buckles passes away, he will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, having received special approval from the White House in 2008 (with prompting and special intervention from H. Ross Perot). When asked about the secret to his long life, Buckles said, “When you start to die…don’t.”
In Memory of USMC Lance Cpl. John J. Mann Jr. (1985-2010)