Area veterans remember one of their own
MARTINSBURG – Whether or not they knew the late World War I veteran Frank Woodruff Buckles personally, veterans are drawn together this week in the knowledge that they’ve lost one of their own.
Richard Seeley, commandant of the Marine Corps League of the Eastern Panhandle, knew Buckles for a decade and said it was an honor sharing that time with him. At 110, Buckles was the last surviving American WWI veteran – there are now only two WWI veterans left in the world, and they both served in Europe.
Buckles passed away at his Charles Town farm early Sunday morning.
“He was a great man. And he certainly deserves all the recognition he received because of how well he served his country in both World War I and II. Frank Buckles was truly a great American and should always be remembered that way,” Seeley said, adding that he’d like to see him recognized nationally for his contributions.
Remembering Buckles is also important for the younger generation, “because at this point they don’t seem to know a lot about either World War I or II,” said Seeley, who also served two times as commander for the Military Order of the Purple Heart in West Virginia.
Even though it’s a long journey, Don Alsbro and other members of the Michigan-based organization, Lest We Forget, considered it an honor to visit Buckles at his Jefferson County home and were looking forward to making the trip in April – and for many more years to come.
“Frank always said he was going to live to be 115 and we hoped he would make it,” said Alsbro, the organization’s president and co-founder, who visited last fall to present Buckles with a lifetime honorary membership.
The group first visited him in January 2009, shortly before Buckles’ Feb. 1 birthday, when they installed a flag pole in his home’s front yard. They returned three other times and each visit was special, Alsbro said.
He added that Buckles was “a true patriot, but also a man of incredible stories.” Each visit, he learned something different.
“There was just so much history there and it came alive with Frank. … And perhaps because I never got a chance to talk to my own dad about his World War I experiences – because he died when I was just 8 years old – it may have been that talking with Frank was a little bit like talking with him would have been,” he said.
Steve Hammond, financial officer with Amvets Post 30 in Inwood, recalled seeing Buckles at the doughboy memorial in Martinsburg during a Veterans Day celebration a couple years ago.
He marveled at the WWI veteran’s advanced age and health even then, saying, “I thought it was amazing then for him to be his age and still getting around.”
Touched by Buckles’ death, Hammond, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, said the country must never forget.
“It is important to recognize Frank Buckles and all of the veterans who served because they are the ones who made a difference – they did the fighting to keep us free,” Hammond said.
Navy veteran Todd Kingsbury, who also serves as commander for Veterans of Foreign Wars, Jefferson Memorial Post 3522, said he only knew Buckles by reputation.
“Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to meet him, but I absolutely knew of him and I think the whole community knew about him – he was kind of an icon,” Kingsbury said. “So this is a heck of a loss and pretty significant, as I think most people would agree.”
Cy Kammeier, commander of Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 646, agreed Buckles was known by many – far and wide.
“I was in Florida last week when his name came up in a conversation,” Kammeier said.
Making sure Buckles and other WWI veterans are remembered should be a national priority, he said.
“I was always impressed with the really outstanding work Frank Buckles did in trying to get a monument to all who served in the first world war,” Kammeier said.
“After all, we honor presidents and members of Congress, so we definitely need to honor the heroes from that war who helped keep our country free. They more than deserve that,” he said.
Details for services and arrangements will be announced later this week, but the family is planning a burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
President Barack Obama ordered that the day Buckles is buried that all U.S. flags on official buildings be lowered to half-staff.
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., announced Tuesday that he expects the Senate to agree this week to his resolution, which would allow Buckles to lie in honor inside the Capitol Rotunda. A ceremony in his honor would also take place. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has introduced similar legislation in the House.