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Ceremony for Buckles dashed by Congress

By Staff | Mar 4, 2011

(AP) WASHINGTON – The campaign to honor the remains of the last U.S. veteran of World War I in the Capitol Rotunda has been dashed, at least for now.

Frank Buckles died Sunday on his farm in Charles Town, West Virginia, at the age of 110.

West Virginia’s two Democratic senators blamed Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner on Thursday.

The bodies of prominent citizens have been displayed in the Rotunda on 30 occasions, starting in 1852 with Henry Clay, a longtime senator and congressman. Others include President Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, unknown soldiers from America’s wars and civil rights hero Rosa Parks.

The honor requires a congressional resolution or the approval of congressional leaders, according to the office of the architect of the Capitol.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin III both released statements saying the speaker had blocked the Capitol honor. Asked if that were true, Boehner spokesman Mike Steel said the speaker and Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid would seek Defense Department permission for a ceremony for Buckles at Arlington National Cemetery, outside Washington.

In his final years, Buckles had campaigned for greater recognition for the 4.7 million Americans who joined the military in 1917 and 1918 during World War I. Among his goals was a national memorial in Washington for those who served in that conflict.

President Barack Obama has ordered that flags on U.S. government buildings fly at half-staff on the day Buckles is buried. His family has said they plan to inter him at Arlington, just across the Potomac River from the capital.

Buckles enlisted at age of 16 after lying about his age. He served in England and France, mostly as a driver and warehouse clerk. After the war ended, he helped repatriate German prisoners of war, returning to the U.S. in January 1920.

The episode turned what West Virginia lawmakers had hoped would be easy approval for the rare honor for Buckles into a finger-pointing dispute with partisan overtones.

It was unclear late Thursday how the disagreement would end. Asked whether Boehner would be supportive if the Senate approved a resolution allowing Buckles’ remains to lie in the Rotunda, Steel said, “We’ll see what the Senate does.”

Steel said Boehner and Reid will ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates to allow a memorial service for Buckles at Arlington National Cemetery in nearby Arlington, Virginia, “surrounded by honored veterans of every American war.”

Reid spokesman Jon Summers said Reid and Boehner were “discussing alternatives.” Summers would provide no additional detail.

Members of both parties of West Virginia’s congressional delegation had introduced resolutions to permit Buckles’ casket to be honored in the Capitol. The House version was sponsored by a Republican.

Rockefeller spokesman Vince Morris said lawmakers expected the resolution to “sail through” Congress this week.

Were Buckles granted the honor, he would be considered to “lain in honor.” The term “lain in state” is traditionally reserved for elected U.S. officials or military officers, according to the office of the clerk of the House.

The last man to serve in World War I celebrated his 110th birthday Thursday with at least three generations of family and a contingent of navy officers in dress uniform.

Claude “Chuckles” Choules, who sneaked into the British navy in 1915 aged just 14, has lived quietly in Australia for more than 80 years.