The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 2, 2013

VIDEO: Documentary features World War I veteran who had ties to region

From staff reports

LAMAR, Mo. — A documentary about Frank Buckles — the last American veteran of World War I — will be shown later this month in Lamar. Buckles, who died in 2011 at the age of 110, had ties to Southwest Missouri.

The movie, “Pershing’s Last Patriot,” will be shown at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, at the Barco Drive-In, 57 S.E. 25th Lane, Lamar.

Dave DeJonge, of Grand Rapids, Mich., said Thursday that his film is about “95 percent finished.” He still wants to add high-resolution archival footage, do final editing and enter film festivals.

The screening of the documentary is part of an effort to raise money to finish the film and to continue Buckles’ campaign for a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., honoring all U.S. veterans of World War I.

Buckles was born Feb. 1, 1901, in Bethany, not far from the birthplace of Missouri’s own John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, the general who led American troops during World War I. When he was still a boy, Buckles moved with his family to Walker, in Vernon County, where he attended school.

He enlisted in the Army in 1917, when he was 16 years old, and served until the end of the war. He never saw combat, serving as an ambulance driver in England and France. After Armistice Day in 1918, he helped return prisoners of war to Germany.

He returned to the United States in 1920 as a corporal.

But that was not the end of his adventures.

Buckles later traveled the world working for shipping companies, including the White Star Line, and he was in Manila in the Philippines in 1941 when the Japanese invaded. He was a prisoner of war for more than three years and was held at the infamous Los Banos Prison Camp until he was rescued in 1945. After returning to the United States, he settled on a farm in West Virginia.

He died at his home there on Feb. 27, 2011, the last U.S. veteran of the 4,734,991 who served in World War I, DeJonge said.

While the film retells the story of Buckles’ life and his service, it mainly focuses on his quest for the memorial.

DeJonge said that in 2006, he set out on a quest to film the last known U.S. veterans from World War I. There were about a dozen of them at the time, and three died before he could get to them. During that time he met Buckles, and as the others passed away, Buckles became something of a celebrity. DeJonge said he helped the family with travel, publicity and other events, and later accompanied Buckles on a visit to Washington, D.C.

Five years ago, DeJonge and Buckles visited the abandoned District of Columbia War Memorial. The sidewalk there was so badly cracked that Buckles’ wheelchair got stuck, and that incident reflected the state of disrepair of the memorial. It also got Buckles asking why no federal memorial or monument had been erected in the nation’s capital to honor his generation’s service.

Buckles enlisted the support of U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and visited former President George W. Bush at the White House to raise support for the memorial.

The film includes footage from Buckles’ funeral, which President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden attended. Buckles is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.