MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — On the eve of Veterans Day, America’s last surviving World War I veteran said Congress should pass legislation to create a memorial in the nation’s capital honoring veterans of that conflict.
Frank Buckles, of Charles Town, is honorary chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation and said such a memorial is long overdue.
“I’ve had a long time to reflect on what it means to ‘remember well,’” he said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Being nearly 110 years old and the last of the 5 million Americans who served in World War I gives me some insight on how our nation should mark this great conflict and the generation that fought and died in it.”
Germany recently completed its reparations payments, he said, clearing a ledger that few knew existed.
But that, Buckles argues, does not bring closure.
“The reason is simple: We still do not have a national memorial in Washington, D.C., to honor the Americans who sacrificed with their lives during World War I,” he said. “… I call upon the American people and the world to help me in asking our elected officials to pass the law for a memorial to World War I in our nation’s capital.”
He says it doesn’t have to be elaborate, but a monument belongs alongside those commemorating other great 20th century conflicts.
Buckles has become a celebrity over the past several years, and in 2008, friends persuaded the federal government to allow him to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery when he dies.
He was already eligible to have his cremated remains housed in a columbarium at Arlington. To be buried underground, however, Buckles would have had to meet several criteria, including earning one of five medals, such as a Purple Heart.
Buckles never saw combat, but a cemetery spokeswoman said he was granted an exception.
Born in Missouri in 1901 and raised in Oklahoma, Buckles visited a string of military recruiters after the United States entered the “war to end all wars” in April 1917.
He was rejected by the Marines and the Navy, but eventually persuaded an Army captain he was 18 and enlisted. He was 16.
Buckles spent his tour of duty working mainly as a driver and a warehouse clerk in Germany and France. After Armistice Day, he helped return prisoners of war to Germany. In January 1920, he returned to the States aboard the USS Pocahontas.
Buckles joined U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and other senators on Capitol Hill in December 2009 to support the Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act. The bill would dedicate a National and District of Columbia World War I Memorial to honor the sacrifices made by American veterans of that conflict.
It would rename an existing structure, the District of Columbia War Memorial, which was dedicated in 1931 to D.C. residents who served in the Great War, including those who lost their lives.
Rockefeller is still pushing for the bill’s passage.
Online: WWI Memorial Foundation: https://www.wwimemorial.org/
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