Skip Navigation and Jump to Page Content    The Library of Congress >> American Folklife Center  
Veterans History Project (Library of Congress) ABOUT  
SEARCH/BROWSE  
HELP  
COPYRIGHT  
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Frank Woodruff Buckles [12/19/2001]

Liz McMillen:

Today is the 19th of December, 2001. We are interviewing Frank Woodruff Buckles, at Gap View Farm, West Virginia. His birthday is February 01, 1901; The interviewer is Liz McMillen. Could you tell me what branch of service you were in?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

The ambulance. In the ambulance service in World War I.

Liz McMillen:

Tell me, were you drafted or did you enlist?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

I enlisted in the United States regular Army, which is quite a distinction. I did have some difficulty getting in because they were suspicious of my age. I went up to Wichita, Kansas to the State Fair in the summer of 1917 while school was out. I went to the Marines recruiting station, and the sergeant told me that I was not old enough. I gave my age as 18; you had to be 21.

So I went out to Larned to visit my uncle and aunt, who had formed a bank there many years before. And my grandmother was there. Came back a week later and went to the same recruiting station, same sergeant was there, but I had increased my age to 21. He was very . . . gentleman and gave me the test. I could pass it. But he says, "You're just not heavy enough."

Well, I tried the Navy, they didn't want me; said I was flat-footed even though I went to sea for 20 years after that. Then I went to Oklahoma City, tried to make it in, and went to the Army recruiting station. They sent me to Logan, Colorado, where I was sworn into the United States regular Army. A knowledgeable old sergeant said if you want to get to France right away, go into the ambulance corp. And he sent me to Fort Riley, Kansas, where they were training for ambulance service and trench retrieval.

Liz McMillen:

Why did you want to join?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

(Laughs). I was interested in the war. I'd been reading the newspapers since I was a child, and I was a wireless amateur, and the war was interesting to me.

Liz McMillen:

Do you recall what those first days in the service were like?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes. In the regular Army in Fort Logan it was very military. You waited to sit down at the table until the sergeant arrived. That was the beginning there. And at Fort Riley, it was quite different. We were first in tents, and the food was prepared quite different, too, using the big GI cans with the fire underneath it to prepare the coffee or the soup or beans or whatever it was.

Now I haven't talked about these things in the past, only to Susannah and my wife. Nobody here knew that I was ever in World War I until quite recently, till Jacques Chirac, the President of France, decided to include the Americans [he points to a photograph of President Chirac giving Mr. Buckles the Legion of Honor at a ceremony recognizing World War I veterans in 1999 [February 19, 1999].

Liz McMillen:

When did you get overseas, when did you get to France?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Now the unit I belonged to - 102 men - were called the First Ft. Riley Casual Detachment, and "casual" means unassigned, and were expecting to go direct to France, but I went overseas on the Carpathia in December 1917. Many of the officers - some of the officers - and some of the men had been aboard when they made the rescue of the Titanic of the survivors.

Our group, as we thought destined for France, were diverted in Winchester, England, to relieve the unit of the Sixth Marines, who had the camp hospital number 35. That changed the situation around for me, and in Winchester, although I enjoyed it very much, particularly the historical background of the area and the country, I was anxious to get to France, and I used several methods, including, I should say, pestering every officer of influence in the place, including the Commandant Colonel.

I got an audience with the Colonel, who told me that he wanted to go to France, too. But it was helpful in one way, that everybody knew that I was determined to get to France. I even made up a system for three other men. At night these units would go down to Southampton to board the ship. And I had a new route that we would follow, that I had arranged with them, that we would, the four of us, would be out at the end of this lane when the troops came along and we'd just fall in with them.

And going board the train and going aboard the ship presented no problem. But for some reason I had to drive a little car with some officers down to Plymouth, and I didn't get there until after the period we had arranged. They went on to France but they came back under escort [laughs] and were punished for it.

Liz McMillen:

What was your job assignment in Winchester?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

In Winchester, I drove--well, first it was a motorcycle and a sidecar. And with the sidecar I would take on official assignments with some of the officers. Most places, the military walked. And it was quite an honor to be riding in a motorcycle.

Then I was promoted to a car. A Ford car. And also, as this was a camp hospital unit, I also drove a motorcycle, which was also a Ford. But I eventually got on to France.

Liz McMillen:

Do you remember when that was?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

No, and of course I probably had orders, but the early orders I had I haven't kept this long. I have orders for later experiences, but not the first one.

Liz McMillen:

What did you do when you were in France? What was your job there?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Well, mostly driving a car. And ambulance. Particularly down in the Gironde district. The small places: St. Andrew. Saintes Sophie's down to Cognac. And of course, Bordeaux.

When I got to France, I took various assignments. My situation was different. Most men belonged to one unit, one group. For instance, after the war, I belonged to the 7th Regiment of New York and many of the men were overseas. But their experience you could pick up in the history of the 7th Regiment. Even down to C Company to which I belonged.

But with me, I was in Europe by myself. Very young, alert--I got along well.

Liz McMillen:

Were there any casualties in your unit?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

No.

Liz McMillen:

How far were you from combat?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Well, that depends on which place I was at. Up around Ishertile (?) I suppose about 30 or 40 miles. Thirty or forty miles is a long distance in France.

Liz McMillen:

Do you have any vivid memories of those months in France?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes. What I have a vivid of memory of is the French soldiers, is being in a small village and going in to a local wine shop in the evening. And here are the French soldiers. And they had very, very little money. But they were having wine and singing the "Marsellaise" with enthusiasm. And I inquired, "What is the occasion?" They were going back to the front. Can you imagine that?

Liz McMillen:

You said you drove an ambulance. Was that to the hospital?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

It was more of a dispensary. Oh yes, I said took me to the hospital in Bordeaux. But I wouldn't be inside of it. Weren't very impressive to me.

Liz McMillen:

How did you stay in touch with your family?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Well, by letter, yes. No telephone in those days.

Liz McMillen:

And what was the living conditions like? What was the food like?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

In the Army I never complained about food, because that indicated you came from a family where you were not bred too well, if you complained. But when I got to France- this was when I was in the Gironde area, after I'd had my meal with the mess kit, I'd go through it and wash it well - the way they would do it, a very good idea - they'd have several of those GI cans, about 20-gallon cans, with a fire under it, hot, you'd put your mess kit in, you'd dip in there with a handle on it, clean it, but I would clean mine and go back through again and load it up, and the children were there, and the little French children were hungry. Invariably, we'd feed the children. That to me was a pretty sad sight.

Liz McMillen:

Did you know French?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Well, I've studied it since. And I studied some then, but I can't speak it well. Do you speak French?

Liz McMillen:

Just a little. Do you speak German?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

No. Do you?

Liz McMillen:

Yeah, well [speaks German word here]. Did you go to Germany as well?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes, after.

Liz McMillen:

Tell me about that.

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

That is interesting. That I have the orders here, I'll give you a copy. It shows my name there, I believe I was a corporal, and my serial number - 15 5 77. You don't find that number except in a small group in the regular Army.

In Germany taking the prisoners back I remember it quite distinctly. It'd be several hundred of them, and in the middle car was coach, where the escort was. When I first came into Germany - oh no, I'll tell you something that happened before we got to Germany. Whenever you stop anyplace, I'd hop out and run and get a little exercise, run up and down the deck. I missed my coach. So when the German held his arm out, he just brought me aboard in the freight car, so I was sitting in the freight car. And off in the distance was French prisoners and a French guard. And the French guard took a shot, implausibly, just took a shot at the train. And came in the same compartment that I was in. I didn't know, I thought the fellow was killed. But years later, I was in Santos, Brazil, and I was quite interested in the coffee plantations and asked our agent if he could supply some photographs of the coffee plantations. He sent a man to the ship, and I have the pictures now, quite large ones, and his speech was, he spoke English quite well, but with a decided American accent.

I was curious. And he says, Yes, he had been a prisoner of the Americans, and maybe that was where he developed his American accent. So we compared notes, and I asked him if any unusual experience occurred, and he told me about the prison guard shooting at the train.

In Germany, the first stop we made in Germany, their equivalent of the Red Cross, wanted to welcome and give them some coffee. So they all lined up. Well, I lined up, too, with my coffee cup, so the one who came along, elderly gentleman with a neat beard, poured out the coffee, and I said, Danka sir, Das Kaffee est sehr Gut. Well, with that, he reached behind the counter and brought out a loaf of potato bread, I guess it was, gave me a slice. I said, Danka Sir. Das brot est sher Gut. And I got some sausage after that. See, there is an advantage to knowing a foreign language.

Liz McMillen:

Do you remember the men from your unit? Did you make friends with any of them?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

One that I have met is this man here [points to a photograph].

Liz McMillen:

Do you remember his name?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Oh, I certainly do. James Potter, and he was from Providence, Rhode Island.

Liz McMillen:

Did you keep in touch with him?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes, I kept in touch with him. And I went up to Providence to see him. And he was in the jewelry business, and during his time over there, he was the cook. And he was a cook in the officer's mess, and naturally, I'd be good friends with the cook, because I was always hungry.

Liz McMillen:

Were you with him in France or Germany?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

No, just in France, no just in England. Not after that.

Liz McMillen:

How long were you in Germany?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Oh, just a matter of months. We ... went to Lindberg with the prisoners, then back to Koblenz for an assignment. Somehow or other, I don't know what the other men and officers did, or what their assignment was, but I was left with the boxcar. So I stayed in the boxcar for a day or two, and then when I found where we were parked at the railway station, that I could go up to the railway station and have my lunch for a just a very, very minimum amount. Then when it came, they were treating Americans to Rhineland trips, Koblenz, right across from Ft. Erinbreitstein. They were treating Americans to trip down the Rhineland. Well, when they were about ready to start, I'd be standing in the doorway near the point of going aboard the vessel, fall right in line, keep moving until we got underway, so I had a day of entertainment.

Liz McMillen:

Did you have leave time in France or Germany?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes, I did, though not in Germany. I went around there some. What I have, I have this order, the original orders, of the only vacation I ever had in Europe. And that was in, from headquarters in St. Sulpice, the place where I was picking up the Germans, and they didn't give me a pass alone, but one man with me, a Sergeant Henry, whose father, he said his father was a colonel in the Army. He didn't smoke or drink, but he took six cartons of cigarettes with him, because we'd use that for money.

And we went down to Ares - not the main Ares you see in France but the one on the Bay of Arcachon - a small, little place. Stayed at a little hotel, the Hotel de Pay, and I have postcard pictures of the place and the postman who delivered some of his mail on stilts because he'd be underwater at certain times [because the ground would be underwater].

Well, the little Hotel de Pay had a reception for us and invited everybody in for the evening to have a glass of wine and dance in the hotel. I didn't dance, but I moved around. Well, I had five or six cartons of cigarettes, too, and I didn't smoke at that time, so here our vacation was up. I wasn't going to go back, I still had my money [microphone muffled here] I decided we'd go down to Biarritz, took the train, went to Biarritz.

A sergeant at the railway station, there'd be in different carriages from the hotel. Sergeant Henry, I didn't see him again until we were ready to leave, he stayed in a little hotel right there near the station. I went to the Ritz Carlton Hotel. I went into the Ritz Carlton hotel, in the lobby before I was received, and there was a captain there . . .

Oh, I want to tell you something. On the train going down, Sargent Henry and I had a compartment, and French officers came. We knew we had to give it up for them. So they came in and they're important, so we presented it to them as if we were giving it to them. Well, this American officer, a captain, says what are you doing here. I looked him in the eye, and I said, you tell me, sir, what are you doing here? I never saw him again.

While I was--I was there several days, and I thought it was rather strange that I got so much service, but I guess every servant in the hotel came in to take a look at me. I knew it was an unusual situation to see an American staying at the aristocratic hotel because that was where the aristocracy of Europe would go. [muffled microphone garbled a passage here]

Liz McMillen:

Tell me about the fact that you had gone AWOL. You had to go back. Can you pick up again when you left the hotel.

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

When we got back to our station, we had been AWOL, naturally, we were subject to some discipline. I told my story to the young lieutenant about the experience of taking the extra time due to the fact that I had all the cigarettes to use instead of money and went to Biarritz and stayed at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. When I told him about it, he so enjoyed the story, he said, I wish I could have done that myself. I didn't get any fines, nothing on the record.

Liz McMillen:

Did you travel anywhere else besides France?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Well, of course, England, southern England. Very interesting in southern England, particularly when I had the motorcycle sidecar. A Mrs. Selfridge, Selfridge of the Field family in Chicago, lived at Highcliffe Castle, her family did, and they were having a funeral, and I took this major, they had to have some official American there, because she was American.

I took this major, and at the place, they had 19 small cabins for 19 Americans who were, they were recuperating. They were made so that you could get outside and turn them with the sun. And at the funeral, they wondered what were they going to do with me? They put a black band on my arm, and I was the 20th member at the funeral. The major was taken around by some official, and the 19-year-old daughter took me around to show me the highlights of the castle.

And when the very first time I used the motorcycle, I took Captain Cotton from Texas, who had been in Europe when he first graduated from college and was given the grand tour of Europe, he made a bicycle tour of Europe, and was quite knowledgeable. And we went, first I took him to Winchester College. I was really fascinated by the college, and he told me all he knew about the Norman architecture, and the first opportunity I went on my own.

Very soon, when we would have a visiting officer, and he would want to go into the town of Winchester, they'd say, let Buckles take him. And the curator, guess you'd call it, of the cathedral, had a son who had gone out very young to France and killed, and he took a particular interest in me, and showed me many things of interest about that cathedral--I've been there many times since--and people don't even know. For instance, he took me down below to a tunnel, which led up to the castle in Winchester, and he gave me a candle, and I walked back in there, for several yards anyhow, and I've also been in the castle, and I told them about the tunnel, and they didn't even know that the tunnel was there.

Liz McMillen:

When you were working, did you feel under a lot of pressure, was it stressful?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Me? No. How was I going to be stressful? Not in those days.

Liz McMillen:

Were you ever scared to be there?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

No.

Liz McMillen:

Did you ever feel at a disadvantage because of your age, did you feel much younger than everyone else?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

No.

Liz McMillen:

Were there others at your age as well?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Not very many. No, because anybody asked me my age, I just looked them in the eye and tell them I was 21. And you know, after a while, men in uniform all look alike.

Liz McMillen:

No one questioned you?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

[laughs] No.

Liz McMillen:

When you were an escort in Germany, did you ever talk or interact with the prisoners?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

I remember one incident there. I don't know what happened or why, I'd gone for some official reason in the evening, to get some information and a young German who was probably my age and I got into an argument, and two of the older Germans took me by the shoulders and took the other man by the shoulders and told them what they'd get, that the whole camp would get into trouble if we got into a fight. Now you have to make up.

Liz McMillen:

Did you?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Oh yes. And also the German prisoners, they had their own orchestra. And they had some of them in civilian life were quite competent musicians. And outside the wire fence American soldiers had put up a few boards and some barrels to sit on and listened to the music.

Oh, and when I think about these things, remember, I've never told anybody about my experiences except my daughter Susannah and wife Audrey. And I never talked to people about it, because people didn't know I had been in the Army. But the pictures come back to me, they're pleasant things. The unpleasant things I don't remember those, I forget those purposely.

Here is one that stayed, as I said a picture, this is in my mind: The Germans would go out to work, this was in France, they'd go out to work and there'd only be one guard with them, and when the day was over, they'd return. And this particular time it must have been this American soldider, must have been his payday or something, because while they were working, he sat down at a--to have a cafe in French all you need is a chair and a table and a bottle of wine--but the time came to leave, he was pretty well under the influence of the wine. So the picture I got was a German smoking his pipe, a wheelbarrow, and the soldier in it. Behind him another German with the soldier's rifle in his position taking him back to the camp. If I could sketch it, that to me was a really interesting picture.

Liz McMillen:

So in general your memories of that time are pleasant.

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes.

Liz McMillen:

Why didn't you tell people about these experiences or those days?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

We'll go back to the time the war was over, I came back on the ship the Pocahantas. After being over two years and a half in the Army and over two years overseas, it was quite a different life to me. From the time I was 15 years of age, I was treated as an adult.

And when I came back, I decided I was going to be independent. I couldn't go back. I was still just 18 years old after I spent all this time in the Army, and the quickest way to get out, get a job was to go to a business school and take shorthand and typewriting, and then I'd have a job at headquarters where I'd be right close to where the decisions were made. So I did that in about four months.

Oh, the YMCA did me give me a one-month free membership. That's the only consideration I ever saw given to a soldier after the war.

Liz McMillen:

Do you remember much about the day your service ended?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Oh, yes.

Liz McMillen:

What was it like?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

What they did, from I guess Camp Merritt in New Jersey, where we assembled first--they sent groups to the nearest station from where you lived, and this Camp Pike, Arkansas would be the nearest, maybe a couple of hundred miles from Oakwood, Oklahoma, where my parents lived at that time. So, what was your question?

Liz McMillen:

What was the day like when your service ended?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes, I remember it quite well. We lined up, and a very gentlemanly young man acted as the, took the data to make out your discharge, and the man behind him was saying just the same, so it made it easy for him.

And I know that I was paid off with 143.50 including my 60 dollar bonus, but on the way, I went from there to Oklahoma City, and I went around to a business school and signed up, then went on to Clinton. Took me a few days to get there.

Liz McMillen:

Where did you go to business school again?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Oklahoma City.

Liz McMillen:

Let me backtrack for just a second. Were you awarded any medals or citations?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

The victory medal--I thought I had them here? No. Just the victory medal with class for France. And the one, it's called the Army of Occupation for Germany, and it has General Pershing's picture on it. And then of course I got this one from the president of France [pointing to a pin on his lapel].

Liz McMillen:

This was in 1999?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes.

Liz McMillen:

What was the occasion?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Jacques Chirac, the president of France, decided to give all the remaining veterans of World War I the Legion de Honor and then decided to include the Americans. France at that time, or so they told me, only about 1,000, and he decided to include the Americans, and he sent a French photographer over--they found out about me--sent a photographer over to take pictures, and he spoke no English. The young lady from Life magazine in Paris accompanied him as the interpreter, and he ended up with a magazine article in Life magazine of me.

Liz McMillen:

How many American veterans were there?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

I counted, I tried to find out, I wanted that information, and the American Society of the Legion de Honor gave me the list, and I believe there were 254 on that list. And that was dated a couple of years ago.

[Side Two: (continued from side one)]

Now the veterans at the time of Armistice...We do know there were 4,734,991, but we don't know today-- I've tried various sources, yes, and they use some old statistics, but I'd say that probably there are 700 of those veterans still living.

Liz McMillen:

Are you in touch with any of them?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes, the one out--when the article appeared in Life magazine, I got a telephone call from Portland, Oregon, from Mr. Howard Ramsey out there, who is now 103 years old, and he invited me to come out.

Liz McMillen:

Did you go?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

And I went.

Liz McMillen:

What was that like?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

That was very interesting; it was a living history day. And it was started six years ago by a gentleman named Ken Buckles, who was a football coach and also a teacher in the high school. And they've had it every year since, and now about 20 high schools take part in it, and there were 10,000 people at the reception, or the event, I should call it.

Liz McMillen:

You went to business school in Oklahoma, then what did you do?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

I went to business school; in my mind, I changed a great deal, so did other soldiers change. When all those several million men all at once back in civilian life ... on the, downtown was a pool hall right in the middle of one of the main streets, a big place, sort of a meeting place for soldiers. I didn't play pool, but many of the men there didn't either but they went for the meeting. And I'd meet people coming through there from all over the country on their way someplace else looking for a job.

I met one man that I remember because his name was Woodruff, and my middle name is Woodruff, and he was on the way to Mexico. Well, I found then that I was associating only with Army men; I didn't talk to anybody if he hadn't been in the Army, course I was only 18 years old after I came back.

I got a job, and the classes were out by 4 in the afternoon, I got a job in the post office working from 4 o'clock until, well, I guess it was midnight, and I kept my checks, and at the end of the month, cashed them in and went to Canada. So I only stayed in the country maybe five or six months, then I went to Canada.

In Canada, nobody ever asked me about my military service; they didn't think I was old enough. I got a job with the White Star Line, the White Star Dominion Line.

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes.

Liz McMillen:

Where in Canada?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Toronto, in the Royal Bank Building, the tallest building in the British Empire at that time, 20 stories high. Of course I got a job also at night with the Great Northwestern Telegraph Company across the street.

The manager didn't have a job for me, but he said he'd make one so I could work at night. And I went to business school there. Then after 1919, 1921,I tried to go to New York. Oh. I took another job with an automobile company where the pay was much greater than my $65 a month with the White Star Line. I didn't complain because the two freight solicitors were paid 25 dollars a month when they started or something like that. And Mr. Jay W. Wilkerson, the manager, who had been with the Elder Demspter Line in the Canary Islands, his parents paid the company for him to start working, so why was I to complain?

But out of this advanced salary that I got, 25 dollars a week, I stopped at the bank and put half in the bank every Saturday afternoon, til I had money enough I went to the best tailor in Toronto and had a few clothes made.

Then I went to New York but I did go into the ... and oh, in the White Star Line they kept a scrapbook, full- size of a newspaper. I could look back there and see the article on the Titanic and the Carpathia, but I never mentioned to anybody that I had been on the Carpathia until the day I started to go to New York.

And the manager asked me if I had ever been in New York, and I said Yes, I sailed from New York on the Carpathia in December 1917. What? Well, he says, when you get to New York, you go to the White Star Line, Mr. A. C. Feteroff, the freight traffic manager, and they'll have a job for you. I didn't go.

I went afterwards to the, to the one I wanted to go aboard, the Homeric, which was in New York on its maiden voyage. And they gave me the authority to go aboard.

Liz McMillen:

Did your military experience influence the career that you chose?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Well, I suppose so. I didn't talk about it, but it had a great deal, had an influence on my life.

Liz McMillen:

You said that you felt changed when you came back. How did you feel different?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Well, I went through the ... I'll go back. I went down to Oklahoma. I took a load of draft, Persian draft mares and some equipment down to Oklahoma when I was 15 years old. Went to the bank because I was going to people I knew, stayed at the little hotel across the street, and went to school there. So I was doing things pretty much on my own.

So then, going in the Army, where I was treated not as a boy, I was treated as a man 21 years of age, as I told them if they asked. I had the feeling, well, in going to this business school, the soldiers who were there, all of them I knew were going at government expense. They were given one year at 80 dollars a month if they were missing a leg or an arm, and one of them had a bullet in his spine, he's the only one who had all four limbs. And I just didn't have any connection with the civilian people.

And the clothing, of course, to get back in, most boys wore part of their uniform or all of it to school, because clothing was suddenly so very expensive, even a shirt. That, probably before the war, I wouldn't know what they cost before the war, probably 50 cents. Price went up 4 or 5 dollars, so some of them decided to wear their farm uniform overalls, and that price escalated.

Liz McMillen:

Did you join a veterans association when you came back?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes, in the Chamber of Commerce, the meeting was at the Chamber of Commerce. And I remember the man in charge, General Roy Hoffman of the Oklahoma National Guard, gave a talk and said as far as we know, (unintelligible) has no connection with politics.

They gave us all a big cigar and enjoyed the ... I probably got free membership. Of course I went to Canada and never mentioned it again. Until I started to sea, in 1931,I became a life member of the American Legion, life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

I've never been to the Foreign Wars, but I'm a life member. And I'm a life member of the legion ... it was for steamship people. I've had occasion to go to probably three meetings.

Liz McMillen:

So you went to sea? You started working at sea?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Toronto, I was with the White Star Line, and I had money enough--when I came to Toronto, I had all my clothes just in one little bag. That's all my total possessions. And when I went to New York, I got off at Grand Central, I was going ...

In Toronto, here's what has influenced my life: I knew the YMCA would have a gymnasium and also have swimming pool, so I went to the YMCA, and the instructors there were drill masters, and in no time I was number one in class. So that's my club and my free entertainment.

And then when I went to New York, I was well dressed. I carried all my baggage; I carried it from the Grand Central Station to 318 W. 57th Street to save the 25 cents or whatever it was for a taxi cab.

Liz McMillen:

What was on 57th Street?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

The YMCA. They didn't have a place for me because the YMCA doesn't take you unless you have a job. They can leave the Christian out of them. But I always, my first time in New York I always lived, three different places, but within walking distance, within a block of the gymnasium. And in no time I was volunteering as an instructor in the boy's part of the gymnasium and as a calisthenics instructor.

Liz McMillen:

What kind of job did you take in New York?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

I had 5 dollars on deposit at the YMCA in case I got a job, they'd take the money. I went into the George Batten advertising company afterwards, George Batten, Barton, Dusten and Ersten, and a very fine manager gave me a job to start at the first of the month. This was on a Friday. I talked them into starting me on Monday.

By this time, I had, oh I had 49 dollars and a half when I got to New York. By this time, I was down pretty low. They gave me a job and it was just before Christmas, and they also gave everybody in there a little box, in a little white box, a 20 dollar gold piece. I made application to various places, among them the Bankers Trust Company, the prestigious Bankers Trust Company, using as that little bank in Oklahoma 10,000 dollars capitalization as my reference.

It took them some time to get the answer because Mr. K. D. Gossam, the president, was out in California. Well, the bank wrote me a note saying that I had been accepted and to report at a certain time. So I took my 20 dollars and gave it back to them. I said I couldn't take that because I had accepted another job, but they said, Keep it.

Well, the Bankers Trust Company was quite an interesting experience. I was in the bond department, there were only five of us in the bond department aside from the bond salesmen, and we did the trading--Bankers Trust Company at that time consisted then of three places, 16 Wall Street, 501 Fifth Avenue, where I was, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, a branch over on Park and a branch in Paris.

Well, in no time, at the gymnasium that was my [unintelligible] because if you were hungry you still didn't eat anything in the gymnasium. And within very brief time...

Oh, I met some interesting men in the gymnasium. One of them, a friend of his, would meet him in the tea room after the gymnastics exercises, and they were talking among themselves, what should they do for this young man who had just come down from Canada? And this man about town who was very much a New Yorker, you could tell that, a real Jimmy Walker of New York type. They began to discuss what they could do for me, and he said, let him get into one of the regiments.

Both of these men were Irish, and they said, Well, we can get him into the 69th... Oh No, there are too many Irishmen there, you know what the 69th is, right? Donovan and . . . made a great name for themselves in World War I.

And the 7th Regiment, which is up at 34th Street and Park, well, no [unintelligible]. He says we'll get into the 7th regiment, that's really the top one, one of the top ones. And he made some telephone calls, and I received a letter and I was in. That was one of my contacts and I believe they gave you ... I might have been paid a dollar and a half, it might be two dollars and a half, for each attendance you made.

And that covered my incidental expenses of the regiment. But then, I began thinking about the steamship business, and I had a friend who was, he lived at the YMCA, about my age, Charles Deane Steams, his father was president of Philips Andover. His grandfather had been president of, I forgot that university he was president of, but Charlie Steams went there for one year and he told his father that--Amherst, he went to Amherst, he went one year at Amherst, with another friend of mine, Henry Cutler Wolfe, the writer. He said he had all the college education he needed, he was going in the steamship business.

And he made a trip to the Orient, no, made a trip with Standard Oil. His father, Calvin Coolidge, and the president of Standard Oil had all been classmates, so this man of the Standard Oil said, Oh, we'll give him, he'll get the presidential suite over there, and the father said, No, you put him in there as an ordinary seaman, so that he'll get it out of his system.

Well, he came back as a quartermaster of the ship, and actually went on around the world. So we had a lot in common. And made plans with what we could do in the steam shipping business, but first I had to have some experience at sea. And that wasn't easy to get a job if you have no experience at all.

I managed it, through, not through the manager, the head of the bond department because he gave me an introduction to Mr. Philips, who was the president of that steamship line that went out to Bermuda, Fumess Bermuda Line. And I already knew what ship I wanted to go on, what line I wanted to go with, so, I don't know how this fellow could have been a president of the company being so dumb dumb, but he called up the boat captain of the Barber Line, and brought him into the office, and in front of me, told him to give me a job.

Well, I went over to see the colonel, he'd been a colonel in the Army, and you could see he didn't like that attitude at all, and I didn't get that job, but I did eventually. Then, Wally Hoggson, one of the salesmen, was a classmate of Charlie Mallory, another steamship man, with the old Munson Line to South America, so I was right on my way.

Instead of making a voyage or two, I liked it, I was very well-suited for that. I knew how to get along. I was just at home anyplace.

Liz McMillen:

So let me just jump ahead, I understand that you were eventually in the Philippines?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes.

Liz McMillen:

What were you doing there? And I understand you got caught up in the Japanese occupation.

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Well, the war started in Europe, I went out to San Francisco, to our ships, five ships were taken over as Marine Corps transport, that left me looking for something new, an assignment. And I went out to San Francisco and Roger Lapham, the chairman of the board of the American-Hawaiian Line, they had two jobs offered to me.

One of them was to go to Buenos Aires, with the captain of the port, with the Moore McCormick line--elderly gentleman who would retire eventually so I could have had a good job there. The other one was to go to the Philippines to expedite the movement of cargos for this American President line.

I had been in the Orient, I was out there in 1929, and I was out there many times after that, and I had no intention of being an old China hand. But I knew that I, I knew how to handle this job, and I expected to go out there and get my job over and to come back to San Francisco. That's how I got out there.

Then, I knew we were going to get into the war, but I didn't expect it was going to be so soon. So I was there when the war started. I had watched the (untelligible) war build up in Europe, I was in Europe from 1931 to 1938 during the Hitler period, well acquainted with that, now I go out to the Orient, and the war starts out there.

Liz McMillen:

What happened when you were in the Philippines?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

It was December 8 in the Philippines, when it's December 7 here. Same thing, within a few hours, the Japanese were bombing the various installations including the piers, which I would be associated with in the steamship business. So I watched that from the very start. I really know that part of it.

Liz McMillen:

Were you captured, what happened?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

What they did. MacArthur had declared Manila as an open city and removed all the military, thinking that they would leave the place so the civilians who were there would just remain in their homes. Well, that story is quite different. People in this country--we were so closely associated with Europe that they forgot about the Orient. And unfortunately, they were told in the Orient, instead of telling them to go on back to the States, they told them Manila was the safest place in the Orient.

So the manager and the staff from our Tokyo office, from Shanghai, also came down to Manila, and we even had a ship that was just coming through with passengers aboard, while the passengers were off the ship, the ship went on.

With me, I lived on L. Guerra Street right near the Bay View Hotel and always walked back and forth from the piers. Our offices were right close to the piers. I don't know what I should tell you?

Liz McMillen:

I understand you spent some time in a prison camp--I wanted to hear about that.

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

All right, I'll tell you about the prison camp. It was decided in Manila that Santo Thomas University would be the ideal place for the people to go. It goes for about 40 acres right in the city, and so large buildings, including the university building and the annex that it had been built on. They gave out instructions to go to Santo Thomas and take three days' supplies with you. Many of them in the hotels, many of them living there, would go in trucks and so forth.

And how did I go? Still, mine was a little bit different. I lived on L. Guerra Street, a little street near the Bay View Hotel, and I was a little late in getting there and there were two Argentine jai-lai players up topside in the building where I lived, I carried my, I have an Argentine cedula, so I carried my Argentine cedula, a little passport, in case I was stopped on the street. I'd speak to them in Spanish and tell them who I was.

But I was late getting in, and while most of them complained about the way they went to the prison camp I didn't have any problem about that, because they'd already told me to be prepared a certain day. And here a Japanese civilian came in, or two of them, two Japanese civilians with a real uncouth Japanese guard, came into my place, I had a little apartment. So if you know the point of making face is in the Orient, Japanese guard - big fellow, tall, big gun, two little Japanese civilians, and between poor little prisoner me.

They started looking around the place and they saw a Kris [a large knife used by the Moros] a friend of mine had given me, a real good one, and they took the Kris. And they went into the two rooms, and they saw a pistol there and it belonged to, it was a handmade pistol, belonged to my uncle Alvus Moffett in Larned, Kansas, who was a gun expert and an honorary Indian chief and so forth. And of his collection, I chose this one because it was unusual and you couldn't just pick it up like a conventional pistol.

So the Japanese, he took the, kept the pistol. I said he couldn't have it, grabbed it out of his hand. So the Japanese soldier come way down here, the two civilians up above, me I'm up top.

So the two civilians took (unintelligible) and says you must take a lot of food. I had a crate, a case of canned food that I had gotten from the market, for emergency. They took me out in the car to the camp.

Liz McMillen:

You spent quite a lot of time there, didn't you?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes.

Liz McMillen:

How long did you spend?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Three years and two months.

Liz McMillen:

So the experience in the camp, the bad part was the starvation. How did you cope with that?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Well, I had my choice, admittedly became the number one in the number one work crew, labor crew, because sometimes I'd get an extra can of soup or something. There was no provision, naturally, the Japanese had never had experience with the prisoners.

Liz McMillen:

People were always hungry?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Yes.

Liz McMillen:

Was it hard in other ways as well?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

It's such a long story. It's been well-written up many times.

Liz McMillen:

Let me go back again to your military service and ask you more broadly do you feel your experiences during the First World War, how did they affect your life?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Even though I didn't talk about it and didn't discuss it with people, I knew that I was entirely different--when I came back not associating with anyone except the military, and I knew that it was the best thing for me to do was to get out of that atmosphere, not to continue to talk about it, to get out on my own.

Liz McMillen:

Why was that best for you?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Well, it's best for anyone who's been in the military service if he's had some disagreeable experiences. It's best for him to talk about it and get it out of his system and then forget it. Course I didn't talk about it.

Liz McMillen:

Did you feel you had disagreeable experiences?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

No, not really.

Liz McMillen:

Did your experience affect your thinking about the military or other wars?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

No, I don't think so. The way I feel about it, you don't start the war of course, but there are reasons for starting the war that are not sometimes . . . (muffled microphone) There are reasons for starting the war ... Yes. When a war starts the main thing you have to think about is your country is involved, and whatever small details that may occur that don't appeal to you, you still have to go through it. And I believe that's the attitude ...

In the Far East, we were left alone, and I know that it was the intention, because I had heard the President saying that, about help is on the way. He had intended and we had intended to get some help but we couldn't. We had . .. Europe had to come first.

So it was -- many of them think how tragic that we were totally ignored, but the defenders of Bataan and Corregidor held out for months. The Japanese had planned, and we know from Japanese plans that they had expected to go right through the Orient, Asia for the Asiatics, and they also expected to take Australia, and if they had been able to take Australia, it wouldn't have been easy to get it back.

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

I didn't know about that.

Liz McMillen:

You just wanted to go.

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

My father took newspapers, I read about the war, I knew all about the Titanic and the Carpathia, too, when I was a little boy, although I was only 11 years old, but I knew about it, because I read about it, and I had the amateur wireless outfit. Wireless operators were very close, this news is out.

Liz McMillen:

Did you know much about the countries you were serving in before you went?

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Oh, I sure did. Well, I knew about England, and then when I saw King Alfred's statue at the bottom of High Street and on the, when I went down to the little town and I saw distinguished looking, at least distinguished dressed, a band with long robes, colorful robes, and a hat that looked like a bishop's hat, and found that there were soldiers from the Crimea dating back to 1853...And then when I went to the Cathedral and see Rufus the Red, the third son of William the Conqueror who is buried in there, no, he's entombed with the sarcophagus. Yes, I was quite conscious.

Liz McMillen:

Is there anything I haven't asked you about your experience that you'd like to talk about? We don't have much time left.

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Just a few words. When I started in the steamship business in Toronto, I probably, those letterheads with all the beautiful flags on it, the ship's flags, and came to New York, started at sea, with the old Munson Line, I was just a year on the Western World. Then I went over to England, I was still thinking about South America -I speak Spanish - [speaks Spanish passage here], then all these experiences one of them led to another. I wasn't looking for additional experience, they just occurred to me.

Liz McMillen:

We're almost done. Thank you so much for your time.

Frank Woodruff Buckles:

Right. [End of Interview]

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us