Monday, March 22, 2010

Lest We Forget vets visit 109-year-old WWI comrade Frank Buckles and Halyard Mission veteran Arthur Jibilian

NOTE: The following story was published in the Herald Palladium of Southwest Michigan on the same day that Arthur Jibilian, who is featured at the end, passed away.

My thanks to Don Alsbro of 'Lest we Forget' for making me aware of this story.

Aleksandra Rebic



By WILLIAM F. AST III - H-P Staff Writer

Published: Sunday, March 21, 2010 1:08 PM EDT

Lest We Forget vets visit 109-year-old WWI comrade

Don Alsbro, left, and Frank Buckles March 2010

Frank Buckles last weekend got a big smile on his face as the Lest We Forget veterans left his house and said they were looking forward to his 110th birthday in 2011.

Buckles, 109, is America's last living veteran of World War I. The Lest We Forget veterans from Southwest Michigan had made their third recent trip to his farm in Charles Town, W.Va., to pay him a visit.

Lest We Forget President Don Alsbro, one of the five who made the trip, said Buckles appears to still be doing well and might indeed make 110.

"I appreciate you coming," Buckles told the group, according to Alsbro. "It is a long way from Michigan."

Alsbro presented Buckles with a framed copy of a letter from U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, saying he's signed on as a cosponsor of a bill to create a national monument in Washington to honor World War I veterans. There is no such monument now, and Buckles is honorary chairman of the effort.

"He would like to see something approved before he passes on," Alsbro said.

After World War I, Buckles met famed Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, the overall American commander in the war.

Buckles told the group Pershing was traveling around the country giving talks, and he went to see the general at a convention center. He was the only man there to wear a uniform.

"After the general was done with the program, he asked to speak to the fellow in uniform," Buckles said. "He recognized the Missouri accent and asked where I was from. Turns out he was born only three miles, as the crow flies, from where I lived."

When the group left, Lest We Forget member Ray Damaske told him, "auf wiedersehen," or "goodbye" in German. "Danke schön," Buckles replied.

Buckles, born Feb. 1, 1901, enlisted in the Army in Oklahoma City in 1917 at the age of 16, even though the enlistment age was 21. Army officials told him they needed to see a birth certificate, but Buckles told them Missouri didn't have such things. He served in France.

Ironically, Buckles was working as a civilian in the Philippines when Japan invaded in late 1941. He spent three and a half years in Japanese prison camps.

He now lives near Harper's Ferry and Antietam, on land first surveyed by George Washington. Buckles said it's the same area in which one of his ancestors settled in 1732.

"For veterans he's a rock star," Lest We Forget member Dan Stice told The Journal in Charles Town in a story published March 14.

Buckles and his daughter and her husband are on a 300-acre farm. He drove a car until he was 103, and a tractor until he was 106.

Alsbro said Buckles and Claude Choules of Australia, also 109, are the last World War I survivors. He said that information came from Buckles' agent, David DeJonge of Grand Rapids.

The Lest We Forget veterans also stopped in Ohio to present World War II veteran Art Jibilian a letter from Upton. Alsbro said Upton is a cosponsor of a bill that would raise Jibilian's Silver Star medal to a Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award.

Jibilian played a key role in Operation Halyard, the largest rescue of downed American airmen in World War II. That mission took place in 1944 in the former nation of Yugoslavia.

Clare Musgrove of St. Joseph Township was one of the downed airmen rescued in the mission.

The saga was the subject of "The Forgotten 500," a 2007 book by Gregory Freeman about the mission. Freeman was in the Twin Cities at last summer's World War II Re-enactment to talk about the mission.

Operation Halyard rescued 512 airmen, most of them Americans. But the mission caused discord among the allies, much of it remains classified, and the people who want Jibilian's medal to be upgraded have run into roadblocks.


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