When the last-known surviving U.S. veteran of World War I died late last month, there was no shortage of praise or accolades for the 110-year-old doughboy, although one posthumous honor seems to have escaped him — lying in state at the U.S. Capitol.
Despite a push by veterans groups and some on Capitol Hill to allow the body of Frank Buckles to do just that, top lawmakers have not come around to the idea.
“It would be extremely appropriate and very much appreciated if Mr. Buckles could lie in state at the U.S. Capitol,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman Joe Davis.
Proposals in both chambers of Congress to grant the honor have failed to win the necessary support of House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
Mr. Boehner and Mr. Reid instead said they will ask Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to allow Mr. Buckles‘ family to hold a memorial service at the amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, where he will be buried.
But neither leader explained his position not to allow the body of the longtime West Virginia resident to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, an honor reserved — though not exclusively — for presidents.
“Like everyone else, Sen. Reid honors Mr. Buckles for his service to our country,” said Reid spokesman Jon Summers.
All of this has added to frustration on Capitol Hill among lawmakers and veterans groups regarding the stance by Mr. Reid and Mr. Boehner.
“The honor to lie in the rotunda of the Capitol is not for an individual, but in recognition of extraordinary service to our country,” said Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, who urged both leaders to change their minds.
It “is the last opportunity that Congress has to honor the selfless sacrifice of the nearly 5 million individuals who served in the military for the United States during World War I.”
West Virginia’s two U.S. senators, both Democrats, have blamed Mr. Boehner for the impasse.
“This is a big disappointment and a surprising decision by the speaker,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, who proposed a resolution to authorize Mr. Buckles‘ body to lie in honor in the Capitol.
The junior senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin III, amped up the rhetoric by calling Mr. Boehner’s decision “wrongheaded” and “unconscionable.”