ARLINGTON, Va. - From Frank Woodruff Buckles' hillside grave in Arlington National Cemetery where he was laid to rest Tuesday, there is a perfect view of both the Washington Monument and the Pentagon building. Now, the respective symbols of both old and new America are seemingly met halfway by the man whose generation witnessed the end of one, and ushered in another.
Buckles, who died Feb. 27 at the age of 110, was the nation's last link to the millions of Americans who fought in the "Great War." In honor of the service to his nation, hundreds defied the threat of rain to pay their respects to the man known as "Wood" to some close friends, and "Mr. Buckles" to thousands more. Yet as Buckles was celebrated, remembered and honored for his military service, his lifelong dream - a national monument dedicated for World War I veterans in the nation's capital - remains unfinished.
A myriad of guests, including former soldiers, four-star generals, families from across the nation and Rolling Thunder bikers were in attendance for Buckles' ceremony in Arlington. West Virginia Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin and Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito were among the dignitaries who paid their respects. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also made surprise visits to offer their condolences to Buckles' daughter just prior to the funeral, while Buckles' flag-draped casket lay in Arlington's Memorial Amphitheater Chapel.
(Ogden photo by Ron Agnir)
Pictured above, a full military honor guard escorts the casket containing the body of Army Cpl. Frank W. Buckles to his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery Tuesday afternoon.
Following a public viewing in the basement of the chapel, the final doughboy was carried by soldiers and put on a horse-drawn caisson and wheeled to Section 34, not far from where his former commander, Gen. John Pershing, has rested since 1948.
While much of Buckles' military funeral was standard protocol, down to taps and a 21-gun salute, there was nothing standard about the hundreds who paid respect to the veteran who came to represent an entire generation of Americans.
The man being buried was the last surviving member of an expeditionary force that numbered more than 4.7 million strong.
Of those nearly 5 million men, Buckles, a farmer who drove his own tractor and plowed his fields in Charles Town well into his 100s, was the last one. Over the past few years, as the number of WWI veterans left in the world shrank to less than a dozen, Buckles became a symbol of an American era, quietly asking his fellow citizens to remember those from the Lost Generation. Now, that generation has made its last, final march.
But one fight that Buckles took part in continues - one to honor his fellow brothers in arms.
Despite years of lobbying Washington and raising awareness, Buckles was unable to see a national World War I monument dedicated in Washington, D.C., in his lifetime.
Even Buckles himself encountered resistance posthumously when Speaker of the House John Boehner and congressional leadership blocked a resolution allowing the veteran the chance to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
A monument to WWI soldiers from the District of Columbia currently exists in Washington, the D.C. War Memorial, which dedicated in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover to recognize D.C. citizens who fought in the "Great War."
Since then, national monuments have been dedicated in honor of those who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
On Feb. 1, in honor of Buckles' 110th birthday, Rockefeller reintroduced legislation to prepare for the World War I centennial by rededicating the D.C. War Memorial as a national monument - a move sought and wholeheartedly supported by Buckles.
"Allowing our country to pay its respects to Mr. Buckles and all of our courageous World War I veterans is necessary and important," Rockefeller said. "It's a fitting way to say goodbye to our last Doughboy."
Now, Buckles will continue to serve as a link - a lasting reminder of a generation of Americans who fought a war now largely forgotten. Though his fight for the recognition of WWI veterans remains unfinished, his legacy moves forward with efforts to one day nationally acknowledge the 4.7 million men who fought in Europe and the more than 100,000 who didn't come back.
In burying Buckles, the nation not only said goodbye to its last doughboy, but finished an endearing chapter in the American experience.
- Journal Copy Editor Jeb Inge can be reached at email@example.com