Last WWI vet and Greencastle man have common bonds

Clyde Stair knew Frank Buckles, 110, who died in February as the last American soldier to serve in World War I. Stair has a collection of memorabilia related to Buckles. The two men had several similar experiences, one generation apart.

Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last surviving American World War I veteran, was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery. He laid in honor in a basement chapel of the cemetery amphitheater before his interment. The service was conducted with full military honors.

Buckles died February 27 at age 110. A Missouri native, born Feb. 1, 1901, he lived on a farm in Charles Town, W. Va. since 1954. He and his late wife Audrey had one daughter, Susannah, who survived him.

Buckles received widespread publicity as he aged, and at his death. He met President George W. Bush, a highway in West Virginia was named after him, and he  was awarded the French Legion of Honor. Family members, veterans and politicians sought to have him lie in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, but their efforts failed.

Someone knew him

A Greencastle man befriended Buckles about a decade ago, and the two shared some similarities in their military history.

Clyde Stair, 81, met Buckles at the VA Center in Martinsburg, W. Va.

“He was quite a character. He had many stories. Of course, 10 percent were lies,” Stair laughed. “Or exaggerations.”

Buckles remembered everyone, he recalled, evidence of a sharp mind. Stair attended his 105th birthday party.

Both men were members of Veterans of Underage Military Service. The organization, formed in Maryland in 1991, defined its membership. “We are a unique association of individuals who, as patriotic youngsters, circumvented recruiting requirements, altered various documents, and in some cases, lied in order to serve this great nation.”

Buckles enlisted in the Army at age 16, after the Marines and Navy rejected him. He told the recruiter Missouri didn’t keep birth records, so he only had what was written in his family’s Bible. That got him in.

Stair enlisted in the Maritime Service in the fall of 1945, but they went on strike and he was never called. So, at 16 years of age, he changed 1929 on his birth certificate to 1928, and tried to sneak into the Navy. They let him in after he had dental work done.

The following August the Navy discovered his true age and planned a captain’s mast, similar to a court martial. Two men used as references reported Stair’s home life in Littlestown was not good and the service was the best place for him. He stayed in until 1948.

Buckles and Stair were also involved in two wars. Buckles served during World War I from 1917 to 1920. Later as a civilian he worked for a shipping company. He was captured by the Japanese in Manila during World War II and held as a prisoner of war for three and a half years.

When discharged from the Navy, Stair could not find a job so he enlisted in the Army a few months later. He served during the Korean War until 1952.

Stair and his late wife Jean also had one daughter. The couple lived in Hagerstown, Md. until 1990 and then moved to Greencastle. Stair is a retired aircraft design engineer. He worked at Fairchild Aircraft and several other companies on the east coast, and owned his own business. He volunteers at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Hagerstown.

The stories of both men are recorded in books published by VUMS. Buckles is in America’s Youngest Warriors, Vol. 2, and Stair is in Vol. 3.