March 16, 2011 in Nation/World

America’s last veteran of World War I buried

Associated Press
 
Rapidly dwindling ranks

With the death last month of Frank Buckles, only two known World War I veterans remain worldwide: 110-year-old survivors Florence Green in Britain and Claude Choules in Australia.

ARLINGTON, Va. – Frank Buckles was buried Tuesday with the pomp and ceremony befitting the man who outlived 4.7 million other Americans who served in World War I.

His flag-draped casket was carried to his gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery on a caisson led by seven horses. A seven-man firing party fired three rifle volleys and a bugler played taps as hundreds of onlookers saluted or held their hands to their hearts.

At the end of the graveside service, soldiers from the Army’s vaunted “Old Guard” folded the flag as an Army band played “America the Beautiful.” Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli presented the flag to Buckles’ daughter, Susannah Flanagan.

“To our comrade in arms, Frank Woodruff Buckles, our nation bestows military honors,” said Lt. Col. Keith N. Croom, an Army chaplain. “In life, he honored the flag. Now, the flag honors him.”

Buckles lied about his age to enlist at 16. He died last month at his Charles Town, W.Va., home, at age 110.

Before the burial, his body lay in honor inside Arlington’s Memorial Amphitheater Chapel. Hundreds of visitors filed past silently to pay their respects.

Around 3 p.m., after the public viewing was over, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden arrived by motorcade to pay their respects.

Flanagan had wanted her father to lie in repose in the U.S. Capitol, but Congress failed to approve that plan as politicians clashed over how best to honor Buckles and other WWI veterans.

Buckles’ grave is on the side of a hill ringed by cedar trees, with views of the Washington Monument, Capitol dome and Jefferson Memorial. At the crest of the hill, 50 yards away, sits the grave of Gen. John Pershing, under whose command Buckles served, along with a plaque commemorating the 116,516 Americans who died in World War I.

Born in Missouri in 1901 and raised in Oklahoma, Buckles visited a string of military recruiters and was repeatedly rejected before convincing an Army captain he was 18. He served as an ambulance driver in England and France, and after Armistice Day, he helped return prisoners of war back to Germany. He returned to the United States in 1920 as a corporal.

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