The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 3, 2013

Kansas City memorial pays tribute to World War I soldiers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For many years, the name Frank Woodruff Buckles meant nothing to most people.

Few folks remembered the name of the brave farm boy from northern Missouri.

Buckles, born in 1901 near Bethany, moved with his family to Walker in Vernon County early in his life. He attended school there, moving later to Oklahoma.

He soon became Cpl. Buckles, but only after duping U.S. Army officials to allow him to enlist in the military in 1917. He was just 16.

While most pimple-faced boys his age were more concerned about girls, families and farm work, and dreaming of their lives to come, Buckles was driving ambulances and shuttling fellow soldiers around the killing fields of war-torn Europe.

Buckles died in February 2011. He was the last known surviving American veteran of World War I. He was 110 years old.

One of those who know much about Buckles’ past — and the Great War in which he fought — is David Holmquist.

For more than six years, Holmquist, a Kansas City financial planner and consultant, has volunteered much of his time shepherding visitors around the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial.

He loves sharing his vast knowledge of the Great War and those American, French, British, Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian troops who battled hand-to-hand, dodged shells and donned gas masks in order to survive the conflict. His volunteer work at Liberty Memorial is a “labor of love,” he said.

Around 9 million military personnel from dozens of countries and colonies lost their lives during the first war of the mechanized age, during which 65 million soldiers of all stripes fought.

Buckles was one of the lucky ones. He survived, served his country again during World War II, was held as a prisoner of war in the Philippines — he survived again — owned businesses, married and eventually settled on a farm at Charles Town, W.Va. He worked that land until he turned 105.

Holmquist said he was honored to meet the aging veteran during a ceremony a few years ago at Liberty Memorial.

“I met him when he came to Kansas City at the museum in 2008,” said Holmquist, who answers visitors’ questions, points them to areas of interest, and works to help guests locate their World War I familial connections at the museum and archives near downtown Kansas City.

“(Buckles) was the toast of the town that weekend,” he remembered. “He and his daughter, who was about 55 at that time, toured and spoke to us.”

Meeting the last known American doughboy made an impression on Holmquist. It’s a story he loves to share.

“As he left in his wheelchair, I instinctively put my hand out as he passed,” Holmquist said. “His poor circulation made for a cold handshake.”

Buckles, he said, was the most valuable relic of the Great War in the museum that day.

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