A Michigan photographer is working to raise $150,000 to make a documentary about Frank W. Buckles, the last living American World War I veteran. The film will be narrated by Richard Thomas, who started in the television series The Waltons, says photographer and film maker David DeJonge. Thomas also played the lead role in the 1979 remake of the classic World War I movie, All Quiet on the Western Front. Buckles is believed to be the last survivor of the Western Front.
DeJonge became acquainted with Buckles more than four years ago as part of his effort to photograph the last American World War I veterans. He has since gathered hundreds of hours of footage of Buckles, ranging from on-camera interviews to Buckles’ visit to Gen. John J. Pershing’s home in Mississippi. Pershing led U.S. troops in France in World War I. Buckles met the famous general after the war.
Buckles joined the Army at age 16 and went to France as an ambulance driver. After leaving the Army, he spent about 20 years working in international shipping, learning five languages along the way. Buckles also endured more than three years in a Japanese prison camp during World War II.
DeJonge knew Buckles’ story was ideal for a documentary soon after meeting him. The film maker was struck by Buckles’ story telling ability, his wit and his intellect.
“This man has lived half of American history,” DeJonge says. “He has this ability to transport anyone, anywhere to a time 100 years ago.”
DeJonge launched the kickstarter.com campaign on the eve of Buckles’ 110th birthday, which was Feb. 1. More than 60 people have pledged a total of about $7,700. The deadline for raising money is April 1.