CARSON CITY, Nevada (AP) # Reuben Law, 105, credits good heart genes and lifelong outdoor activity for his apparent status as Nevada’s last remaining veteran of World War I.
At 102, Frank Buckles still works the fields and drives a tractor at his family farm near Charles Town, West Virginia.
The two are among fewer than 200 surviving U.S. veterans of the Great War out of 4.7 million who served.
“I’m pretty rickety, but I still get along,” Law said at his Carson City home as he reminisced about his stint as an Army sergeant, hauling supplies or transporting soldiers shattered by bombs and bullets to a military hospital near the village of Allerey in eastern France.
The duty was grim, but Law downplays his service overseas from October 1918 to July 1919.
“I had the easy part of the war,” he said. “We could hear the big artillery in the distance, but we were never near it.”
After enlisting in Minneapolis, where he worked at a Ford plant assembling Model T’s, Law almost died en route to Europe. A flu outbreak killed more than 60 other soldiers on the ship that brought him to France.
“I just barely made it,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to the hospital, which was a mistake. But it worked out.”
Law’s best memory of the war was its end, Armistice Day.
“We loaded up a bunch of us in a camion (truck) and we went into Allerey to celebrate, and every girl that we went by gave you a kiss. They were so relieved about the war,” he said.
Looking at framed mementos of his Army service # his sergeant’s stripes, dog tags, the Legion of Honor medal that France awarded him in 1999 # Law said “I was doing something that needed to be done. I got through it without too much difficulty.”
Buckles, a native of Harrison County, Mo., was 16 when he enlisted in the Army in 1917. “It was a very important thing going on. I wanted to participate,” he said.
Buckles had various assignments in France, where he recalled, “Everybody was in mourning. … You felt that it was a very serious situation.”
He remembers getting food for hungry children who came to his military camp.
“Wherever you’d find soldiers, you’d find children,” Buckles said. “You were inclined to give them whatever you could.”
Some of the memories are lighter.
He recalled sitting at the bar of a hotel that catered to Europe’s aristocracy, where he overheard some women complaining about the presence of an American enlisted man.
A Russian prince entered the room, heard of the complaint and seeing the young corporal said: “He’s conducting himself as a gentleman. He may stay there as long as he wishes.”
“That put them back,” Buckles said, laughing.
After the war ended November 11, 1918, Buckles helped escort POWs back to Germany and later worked in the steamship business in Europe, South America and Asia.
Buckles himself became a POW about 20 years later while working for a steamship company during the 1941 Japanese invasion of the Philippines.
During the months of captivity, Buckles helped a polio-stricken girl with therapeutic exercises, supervised other prisoners working around the camp and encouraged them to do daily exercises, said Ken Buckles, a distant relative from Camby, Oregon.
“He said, ‘You have to have a reason for getting up every day,”‘ Ken Buckles said. “He said, ‘I had a purpose, I had people who counted on me.”‘
The 11th Airborne Division freed Buckles and others in Manila on February 23, 1945.
Buckles married in 1946 and settled on a 330-acre farm near Charles Town in eastern West Virginia. His wife died four years ago.
Buckles still works on the farm and reads from his collection of more than 1,000 books.
Law, who moved to Nevada from Minnesota in 1993 to live with a son and his family, walks without a cane and drove a car until giving that up at 101. In his mid-90s, he went for rides in a hot air balloon and a sailplane. Buckles stopped driving last year.
Law became Nevada’s last World War I veteran, as far as state and federal officials know, only last month, when 109-year-old William Brown died in Las Vegas.
“The World War I veterans set the stage for veterans who came along after them, who emulated them throughout the 20th Century,” said Chuck Fulkerson, executive director of the Nevada Office of Veteran Services. “They answered a call to arms, to protect democracy which was under attack in foreign lands.”