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Morgantown, W.Va. • He didn't seek the spotlight, but when Frank Buckles outlived every other American who'd served in World War I, he became what his biographer called "the humble patriot" and final torchbearer for the memory of that fading conflict.
Buckles enlisted in World War I at 16 after lying about his age. He died Sunday on his farm in Charles Town, nearly a month after his 110th birthday. He had devoted the last years of his life to campaigning for greater recognition for his former comrades, prodding politicians to support a national memorial in Washington and working with friend and family spokesman David DeJonge on a biography.
"We were always asking ourselves: How can we represent this story to the world?" DeJonge said Monday. "How can we make sure World War I isn't forgotten."
Buckles asked his daughter, Susannah Flanagan, about progress toward a national memorial every week, sometimes daily. "He was sad it's not completed," DeJonge said. "It's a simple straightforward thing to do, to honor Americans."
When asked in February 2008 how it felt to be the last survivor, Buckles said simply, "I realized that somebody had to be, and it was me."
Born in Missouri in 1901 and raised in Oklahoma, Buckles visited a string of military recruiters after the United States in April 1917 entered what was called "the war to end all wars." He was repeatedly rejected before convincing an Army captain he was 18.
Buckles served in England and France, working mainly as a driver and a warehouse clerk. An eager student of culture and language, he used his off-duty hours to learn German, visit cathedrals, museums and tombs, and bicycle in the French countryside.
After Armistice Day, Buckles returned to the United States in January 1920.
He worked a variety of jobs between the wars, but the shipping industry suited him best, and he worked around the world for the White Star Line Steamship Co.
In 1941, while on business in the Philippines, Buckles was captured by the Japanese. He spent more than three years in prison camps.
"I was never actually looking for adventure," he once said. "It just came to me."
Only two known veterans remain, according to the Order of the First World War, a Florida group whose members are descendants of WWI veterans and include Buckles' daughter. The survivors are:
Florence Green • of Great Britain, turned 110 on Feb. 19.
Claude Choules • a sailor in Britain's Royal Navy, now lives in Australia. Choules turns 110 in March.