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Veterans Day Honors US Service Men, Women


November 11, 2008 is Veterans Day in the United States. This year marks the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I, which was fought from 1914 to 1918. VOA's Deborah Block recently met perhaps the last living U.S. soldier who took part in what was known as the "Great War."

Frank Buckles is believed to be the last known surviving American veteran from the first world war. He is 107 years old.

As a young soldier in the U.S. Army, he was an ambulance driver in France helping wounded American and French soldiers.

France and the United States were allies during the war. Buckles was honored recently at the French Embassy in Washington.

Jean-Marie Bockel, the Secretary of Veteran Affairs in France, thanked him and other Americans for their service in World War I. Buckles was presented with the Legion of Honor, the highest award in France for military or civil service.

Buckles was fortunate that he was not injured during the war. An estimated 200,000 US soldiers were wounded; 50,000 American soldiers died on French soil alone.

Buckles was only 16 years old, an underage recruit, when he talked his way into the U.S. Army looking for adventure. He wanted to go to the frontlines of the war. Instead he went first to England where he was a driver for dignitaries. "Something was happening every day," Buckles said. "I was right there."

The stage was set for World War I after a breakdown of old alliances among European powers and an arms race led by Germany. The war started after Germany invaded Belgium. Wary of foreign entanglements, the United States did not enter the conflict until 1917.

The Allied Powers - led by Britain, France, and the United States - defeated the Central Powers - headed by Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire, which controlled much of southeastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

During the war, more than nine million military were killed and some 20 million injured. It is estimated five million civilians were killed.

Mitch Yockelson has written a new book on World War I called "Borrowed Soldiers: Americans under British Command." "It was a very devastating war with the gas warfare, machine guns, trenches and a lot of men didn't talk about the war," Yockelson said. "And the next thing we know we're in another major war, a far more catastrophic war and people tend to forget about the first world war because the second world war has so much more notoriety."

After World War One ended in 1918, Buckles stayed in Europe for a time and escorted prisoners of war back to Germany.

Ironically, it was during the second world war that Buckles himself became a prisoner of war. In 1941, he was a civilian working on a steamship when Japan invaded the Philippines. Buckles was captured and spent three years in a prisoner of war camp before being freed by American troops.

Washington, D.C., has a number of national memorials, including one to those who fought in World War Two. But no national memorial exists to those who sacrificed in the first world war. The closest to a national tribute is the World War One museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

World War One ended after a peace agreement was signed between the Allied Powers and Germany on this day (November 11) in 1918. It is now known as Veterans Day in the United States and Armistice Day in other allied nations.

For Frank Buckles it is a day he will never forget.

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