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Buckles celebrates birthday Tuesday

By Staff | Feb 2, 2011

CHARLES TOWN – Frank W. Buckles, the last surviving soldier to have served on the Western Front during World War I, turned 110 Tuesdsay, and two artists have united to share his legacy with the world.

Frank Woodruff Buckles was born in 1901. He has survived WWI and World War II, is lobbying for a National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C., and is the oldest person to have ever testified before the U.S. Senate. The Charles Town resident now becomes the oldest person to become a filmmaker as he adds film producer to his resume.

When Buckles was born, motion pictures were just six years old.

Buckles and his family will be paid as writers and producers and share in any proceeds that the film generates. The project is being led by David DeJonge and his nonprofit organization Survivor Quest, which is based in Hudsonville, Mich.

Four years ago, DeJonge interviewed Frank Buckles as part of his documentary on the last survivors or World War I and has been shooting high definition footage of the soldier ever since. The two later unveiled that collection in the Oval Office and the Pentagon and have educated more than 50,000 students with the traveling exhibit.

After accumulating hundreds of hours of footage and interviews, the time has come to kick off a fundraising campaign and complete the film.

On Monday at 11:11 a.m., a kickstarter.com campaign was launched to raise at least $150,000 to complete the feature-length film.

“My family and I have self-funded this project for four years and it has been a priceless experience. We are, however, now at a point where we need to expand our team and complete this project to share Frank’s incredible life story with the world,” DeJonge said in a news release Monday.

Kickstarter is a website where individuals can participate and fund creative projects. It is an all-or-nothing campaign, meaning that if funding is not reached, no money will exchange hands and the project will have to look elsewhere to be completed.

Sculptor Gregory Marra contacted DeJonge about a year ago to discuss the idea of a bronze statue to honor Buckles. The two immediately hit it off and began discussing the project.

“Honoring our fighting men and women with figurative bronze work is the best way to thank our defenders for their courage bravery and valor. This statue of Frank Buckles is mandatory,” Marra said in the news release.

Ultimately, a larger-than-life bronze statue of a young Frank Buckles leading Gen. Pershings riderless horse was selected. Buckles met Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing after WWI and was an equestrian during the ’20s and ’30s.

A campaign to offset development of the bronze is under way now and a kickstarter campaign for the sculpture will launch soon. Both projects have links online from frankbuckles.org and tax-deductible contributions can be made online.

The campaign website is www.kickstarter.com/projects/frankbuckles.

DeJonge added that Buckles will spend today at home with close family and friends, enjoying his 110th birthday.

Buckles continues to be optimistic about life. He said earlier this week, “I look forward to living to be 115.”

The veteran has been recognized many times during his long life. One of his most significant awards came from former French President Jacques Chirac in 1999 at the French Embassy in Washington, when Buckles received the French Legion of Honor pin and spoke to Chirac in French.

Buckles met with former President George W. Bush and top Pentagon officials in March 2008, and he received the Distinguished West Virginian Award from then-Gov. Joe Manchin in August 2007.

Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., issued a statement Monday in honor of Buckles’ birthday.

“Mr. Buckles represents the very best of this great country – service, determination and patriotism. He has lived through some of the most historic events in American history, from the Great Depression to two World Wars to the invention the Internet, reminding us of the immense progress we have made as a nation,” she said. “Anyone who knows Frank cannot help but be inspired by his love for his country, humility and compassion. West Virginia is truly grateful to call him one of our own.”