- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2011

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.

The Senate passed a resolution in Mr. Buckles‘ honor, newspaper editorials praised him, and President Obama ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff the day of his interment.

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.”

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the criticism was misdirected because the Rotunda is controlled jointly by the House and Senate and decisions on its use come from both sides.

Mr. Steel added that some other sort of Capitol memorial will be organized to honor Mr. Buckles.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican who also introduced a bill to authorize Mr. Buckles‘ body to lie in honor at the Capitol, has suggested she could accept a compromise.

“In the end, the congresswoman wants Mr. Buckles to be honored in a way that respects his service and sacrifice as well as the service of all America’s veterans,” said Capito spokeswoman Jamie Corley.

Ms. Corley said the lawmaker “hopes that Congress can quickly come to an agreement, as this bickering does not do justice to Mr. Buckles or his fellow World War I veterans who he’s come to represent.”

The Senate passed a Rockefeller-sponsored resolution Thursday to recognize Mr. Buckles‘ contributions to the nation, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy many American veterans groups.

“As the last American doughboy, Mr. Buckles is representative of all our great World War I veterans,” American Legion spokesman John Raughter said. “The American Legion thinks it’s very appropriate to have him honored in the Capitol.”

AmVets spokesman Ryan Gallucci said a Rotunda memorial for Mr. Buckles “is something that we wholeheartedly would’ve supported.”

“If you look back at who has been honored with being lain in state at the Capitol Rotunda, many times they have been critical links to our nation’s military history,” he said.

While presidents and a handful of lawmakers have been given the honor of being lain in state in the Rotunda — the large room under the Capitol dome — Congress occasionally has granted the privilege for others.

The last person to receive the honor was civil rights activist Rosa Parks in 2005. Other non-elected people to be lain in state in the Rotunda include: Jacob Joseph Chestnut and John Michael Gibson, Capitol Police officers killed in the line of duty, in 1998; an unknown soldier of the Vietnam War era, in 1984; FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, in 1972; and Army five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in 1964.

Ronald Reagan in 2004 was the last president to have his body lain in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

Mr. Buckles, born in Missouri in 1901, enlisted in the Army during World War I at 16 after lying about his age. During the “War to End all Wars,” he joined the Army Ambulance Service and went overseas to England and then to France.

After the war, he worked on merchant ships. He was captured as a civilian by Japanese forces during World War II and survived more than three years in prisoner of war camps.

In the 1950s, he moved to a farm near Charles Town, W.Va. In his final years, he pushed for the establishment of a national memorial in Washington for World War I veterans. He was presented with the French Legion of Honor in 1999.