He was sharp and alert and his memory crisp. He was quick with anecdotes. When he heard my last name, he asked if was related to a family he had known in China. I worried about taxing Buckles's energy and tried to end the interview at one point. But he'd have none of that--he wanted to talk.
Mr. Buckles had come to Washington from his 330-acre cattle farm near Charles Town, W.Va., to meet President Bush in the Oval Office--which hadn't even been built when he was born--for the unveiling of his portrait as part of an exhibit at the Pentagon. We sat down with him for an exclusive interview in the Map Room of the White House, where President Franklin Roosevelt plotted the progress of World War II.
When 108-year-old Harry Landis died in Sun City, Fla., on Feb. 4, Buckles became the only living U.S. veteran of the "war to end all wars"--the last man standing in a line of nearly 5-million Americans who served in uniform during that war.
He attributes his longevity to "the desire to live … I have something to survive for. I have a daughter, who, of course, is dear to me," he said, gesturing to Susannah Buckles Flanagan, 52, who sat nearby.
He does 50 sit-ups everyday and drove a tractor on his farm until five years ago--the same time he stopped driving himself to appointments.
"What made you stop?" I asked.
"My daughter," he said, with a laugh. "I would have been driving a lot longer than I did."
By John Yang, NBC News correspondent