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Buckles a winner at Charles Town Races & Slots

World War I veteran honored at dinner, picks winning horse

World War I veteran honored at dinner, picks winning horse

May 05, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Frank Woodruff Buckles is riding a wave of popularity these days.

Buckles, a 107-year-old Jefferson County resident who is the last known living World War I veteran in the country, is giving about an interview a day and is honored periodically in local events.

Last month, Gov. Joe Manchin honored Buckles by naming a section of the new four-lane W.Va. 9 after him and on Sunday, Buckles was at the center of attention at Charles Town Races & Slots.

The track hosted a dinner in honor of Buckles that included about 200 guests picked by Buckles, and the fourth horse race at the track was named in honor of him.

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In more proof that things seem to be going Buckles' way, he picked the winning horse in the race, winning $61.

"Quite a show," Buckles remarked after the event.

State and federal officials, track representatives and others honored Buckles during the event and the veteran received gifts from the track, including a framed horse-racing picture and a magnifying glass he can pass over pages of books to help him read.

Buckles became the last known American World War I veteran earlier this year and has been showered with accolades since then at events, including ones at the Pentagon and the White House.

Buckles was one of an estimated 2 million Americans sent to France during WWI and although he was initially sent to England, he was anxious to get close to the action and managed to get himself into France.

Buckles was 15 when he joined the Army and he drove a variety of vehicles, including ambulances, cars and a motorcycle that had a side car. During World War II, Buckles was a prisoner of war for three years.

Al Britton, general manager of Charles Town Races & Slots, told those in attendance at Sunday's dinner that veterans like Buckles made it possible for Americans to enjoy the freedoms they have today.

Mary Jo Brown, local representative for Manchin, said Buckles has become "a West Virginia treasure."

Sitting at a head table with family members, Buckles made a few brief remarks, saying he was honored to be representing WWI veterans and longevity.

"Thank you," he said.

Before the afternoon meal, Buckles and his guests headed down to the track to observe the race in his honor.

Helped by family members, Buckles was pushed toward the winner's circle in a wheelchair under picture-perfect skies. A healthy crowd was gathered outside, and the track's announcer called attention to Buckles and gave a synopsis of his history. Some spectators tried to get a glimpse of Buckles, while others were able to get close enough for autographs.

After returning inside for the dinner, speakers including Martha Anne McIntosh, representative for U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., took to the podium.

McIntosh read a statement from Byrd in which the congressman recalled his friendship with Buckles and remarked how the fresh air from Jefferson County probably contributed to Buckles' longevity.

Buckles still lives at the Gap View Farm west of Charles Town, where he has farmed over the years. Friends at Sunday's dinner said Buckles was still at the wheel of a tractor not long ago.

Susannah Buckles Flanagan, Buckles' daughter, told those in attendance how much she, her father and her family appreciated the outpouring of recognition.

Flanagan said one of the aspects of life that her father enjoys the most is time with family and friends, something he did not always have when he was alone in places like Europe in his earlier days.

"This was a wonderful way to have a party. You all are so beloved to me," Buckles said.

Buckles said he had not been to the track in recent years, but remembered how in the "old days," he liked going there and seeing the horses being brought out before they raced.

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