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As tributes pour in, friends remember Frank Buckles

February 28, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • President Obama sent condolences from himself and first lady Michelle Obama to the family of Frank Buckles.
File photo

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Accolades streamed in Monday for Frank Buckles, America’s last surviving World War I veteran, who died shortly after midnight Sunday. He was 110.

Several area residents who knew or befriended Buckles offered remembrances.  

There was no word at press time Monday whether a resolution sponsored by 13 U.S. senators passed the Senate to allow Buckles’ body to lie in state in the Rotunda in the U.S. Capitol. According to the resolution, the ceremony would serve “as a tribute and recognition of all United States military members who served in the First World War.”

The leading condolence honoring Buckles and remembering his surviving daughter, Susannah Buckles Flanagan, came from President Obama.

“Michelle and I were inspired by the service and life story of former Army Cpl. Frank W. Buckles. ... We join Susannah and all those who knew and loved her father in celebrating a remarkable life that reminds us of the true meaning of patriotism.”

Condolences also came in from U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Buckles was born in Missouri. When he was 16, he lied about his age to get into the Army. He served as an ambulance driver in England and France.

During World War II, Buckles spent more than three years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in the Philippines. A civilian, he was working for an American steamship company in 1941 when the Japanese invaded the island nation.

“Frank often talked about his ordeal in the prison camp and how it left him with lifelong effects,” said Diane Mickelson of Gerrardstown, W.Va., Buckles’ personal trainer for the last four years. She last saw Buckles at his home Feb. 21.

Mickelson said she first came to Gap View Farm, Buckles’ cattle farm and homestead, twice a week when he was still able to walk to help him retain his mobility.

“We had a wonderful relationship,” she said. “It’s sad to lose a good friend. He was aware up to the end.”

Terence Shotkoski, a director of Joseph Gawler’s Sons Inc. funeral home in Washington, D.C., said Monday that he was waiting for instructions from the family about services and obituary information.

Buckles will be buried in Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery.

Don Amoroso of Shepherdstown, W.Va., spoke of the relationship between his father, Arnold D. Amoroso, and Buckles. They were prisoners in the same camp, but didn’t know it until they met after the war at a reunion of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

Amoroso said Buckles told him that Gen. Douglas McArthur, commander of American forces in the Philippines in 1941, asked that crew members of the cargo ships remain because their ships would be needed to resupply his troops. Buckles ignored his captain’s pleas to leave with the ship and ended up being captured, Amoroso said.

Charles Printz, 95, of Shepherdstown, was a fellow member with Buckles in the Gen. Adam Stephen Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. He said he met Buckles when both were in a play about John Brown in the 1950s.

“Frank used to tell me about being a prisoner, how he would eat anything the Japanese gave to stay alive, even worms,” Printz said. “He said the prisoners who refused died.”

Shepherdstown native John Schley recalled that Buckles was knowledgeable about Jefferson County history.

“We both belonged to the Jefferson County Historical Society. I guess I knew Frank as well as anyone,” Schley said.

“I knew he was on one of those famous death marches in the Philippines, not the Bataan one, but another one,” he said.

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