Frank Buckles, the last surviving U.S. veteran of the First World War who later fought to keep the memory of fellow servicemen alive, has died in West Virginia at age 110.

Buckles, an army corporal who drove an ambulance for the American Expeditionary Forces in France, died of natural causes Sunday at his home in Charles Town, biographer and family spokesman David DeJonge said.


U.S. army enlistment photo, taken in August 1917, of Frank Buckles, who died on the weekend in West Virginia at age 110. ((Buckles Family/Associated Press))

Born near Bethany, Mo., on Feb. 1, 1901, Buckles was turned down several times as he tried to enlist in the marines and the navy before being accepted by the army in 1917 as a 16-year-old by misleading recruiters about his age.

"I didn't lie; I just misrepresented," he said with a laugh during an interview in 2009 with ABC News.

After training in Fort Riley in Kansas, Buckles set sail for Europe aboard the Carpathia, the ship that came to the rescue of survivors of the Titanic. 

Buckles never saw combat, but escorted prisoners of war back to Germany after the armistice. Following his service, Buckles worked for steamship companies, including at the Toronto offices of the White Star shipping line, according to the New York Times.

A lifelong traveller, Buckles also spent more than three years as a civilian prisoner of war in the Philippines after being trapped in Manila as the U.S. joined the Second World War following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

Memorial push

In December 2009, a frail and wheelchair-bound, but sharp-minded Buckles appeared before a Senate committee to support a bill named after him calling for a national memorial in Washington that would honour all Americans who fought in the First World War. 

More than 4.7 million people joined the U.S. military from 1917-18. As of spring 2007, only three were still alive, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs: Buckles, J. Russell Coffey of Ohio and Harry Richard Landis of Florida.

The dwindling roster prompted a flurry of public interest, and Buckles went to Washington in May 2007 to serve as grand marshal of the national Memorial Day parade.

Coffey died Dec. 20, 2007, at age 109, while Landis died Feb. 4, 2008, at 108. Unlike Buckles, those two men were still in basic training in the United States when the war ended and did not make it overseas.

The last known Canadian veteran of the war, John Babcock of Spokane, Wash., died in February 2010. No French or German veterans are alive.

With files from The Associated Press