When Frank Buckles lied about his age to a military recruiter to get into the U.S. Army, he didn't know he would be one of the first members of a new profession -- emergency medical services. He also didn't know he would eventually become the last-known surviving U.S. WWI veteran.
The 108-year-old, who celebrated a birthday on February 1, enlisted in the Army in 1917. Then he pestered his officers to be shipped overseas. Four months later, he was sent to Europe, where he volunteered to drive an ambulance but didn_t particularly enjoy it. "It was all right," he said in a written interview. "It was not a comfortable ride."
The Missouri native did not receive medical training and didn_t provide medical care. But he did go through training to drive the Ford ambulance. "[It was the] same training I had when I was driving a car, and I had been driving a car since I was 12 years old," he said.
Although he wasn't near the front lines, he did experience a brush with death due to illness. "I complained to the lieutenant that I was sleepy and very tired. He said, 'Just go in [the ambulance] and sleep there tonight,'" Buckles remembered. "I took the first bunk as I went in and talked to the man who was lying there. And, the next morning as I awakened, the fellow was dead." The man died of the Spanish flu.
Buckles says his experience driving an ambulance during WWI didn't make him want to join the EMS profession or become a medical provider. And he wasn't a fan of "Emergency!" in the 1970s, either.
Buckles, who lives on a family farm and grants limited interviews each month, is involved in the World War I Memorial Foundation, which focuses its efforts to create a national WWI memorial in Washington, D.C.
Watch and listen to interviews of Buckles:Library of Congress Veterans History Web site
Learn about Buckles and the WWI Veterans Education Project:FrankBuckles.org
Support Buckles dream of a national WWI memorial:www.WWImemorial.org