USA — Last Doughboy’s Burial Marks End of Era

ARLINGTON, Va., March 15, 2011 — Amer­i­ca rec­og­nized the end of an era today as it bade a solemn farewell to Army Cpl. Frank Woodruff Buck­les, the last sur­viv­ing U.S. World War I vet­er­an, as he was laid to rest at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery here with full mil­i­tary hon­ors.
Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden paid trib­ute to Buck­les this after­noon as he lay in repose in the chapel beneath Arlington’s Memo­r­i­al Amphithe­ater stage. Buck­les died Feb. 27 at age 110.

Arlington National Cemetery
A sol­dier with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Reg­i­ment, “The Old Guard,” keeps a con­stant vig­il over the cas­ket of Army Cpl. Frank Woodruff Buck­les, the last U.S. World War I vet­er­an, as he laid in repose before his bur­ial today at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery. A gold-leafed “Winged Vic­to­ry” fig­ure pre­sent­ed to Pres­i­dent War­ren G. Hard­ing when the unknown sol­dier of World War I was buried at Arling­ton on Nov. 11, 1921 watch­es over Buck­les’ cas­ket.
DoD pho­to by Don­na Miles
Click to enlarge

Oba­ma and Biden were the last of a long line of mourn­ers who began fil­ing past his flag-draped cas­ket ear­ly this morn­ing to pay their last respects to Buck­les, and a whole gen­er­a­tion of com­bat vet­er­ans he came to rep­re­sent.

The vis­i­tors paused in qui­et reflec­tion with­in the stark grandeur of the white-mar­ble chapel. Its most strik­ing adorn­ment is a gold-leaf “Winged Vic­to­ry” fig­ure the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment pre­sent­ed to Pres­i­dent War­ren G. Hard­ing when the unknown sol­dier of World War I was buried at Arling­ton on Nov. 11, 1921. Today that fig­ure, along with a sin­gle sol­dier from the 3rd Infantry Reg­i­ment, “The Old Guard,” kept a con­stant vig­il over the last “dough­boy” to serve in World War I.

As they streamed from the chapel, the mourn­ers – a mix of fam­i­lies, school groups, vet­er­ans, even a Cana­di­an air cadet group – said they were hon­ored to be able to say a final good­bye to a gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can heroes.

“I felt like it was my duty as an Amer­i­can to come here and give him my respects,” said Ray King, who took time dur­ing a fam­i­ly trip here from Hous­ton to pay homage to Buck­les. “It’s because of him, and those he served with, that we have the free­doms we have today.”

King’s wife, Mar­i­lyn, said she felt priv­i­leged to be able to per­son­al­ly hon­or Buck­les and those who served along­side him in World War I. “What we are doing here today is a state­ment, and to be able to be part of it is just awe­some,” she said. “We will car­ry this home in our hearts, and it is going to change us. I don’t think we will go back to Texas the same way.”

At 4 p.m. this after­noon, mem­bers of The Old Guard trans­ferred Buck­les’ cas­ket to a horse-drawn cais­son and made the slow, solemn trek to his final rest­ing place.

The sol­diers, too, rec­og­nized the sig­nif­i­cance of Buck­les’ pass­ing.

“What we are see­ing here is his­to­ry,” said Army Spc. Athi­ambo Onyan­go, who sup­port­ed today’s funer­al activ­i­ties. “To me, this feels like the pass­ing of an era.”

Although he’s par­tic­i­pat­ed in more funer­als than he can count – Arling­ton typ­i­cal­ly con­ducts more than two dozen every week­day — Onyan­go said he felt par­tic­u­lar­ly hon­ored to be a part of Buck­les’. “I think this is prob­a­bly one of the most impor­tant cer­e­monies I’ve been in,” he said, hold­ing it right up with Obama’s inau­gu­ra­tion as an expe­ri­ence he’ll nev­er for­get.

Army Sgt. 1st Class William Cramer, anoth­er Old Guard sol­dier, said he, too, felt hon­ored to ren­der hon­ors to Buck­les and the whole lin­eage of World War I dough­boys he came to sym­bol­ize.

“But this is not just about Mr. Buck­les,” Cramer said. “It’s also about what he rep­re­sents … This is the end of that lin­eage for that gen­er­a­tion, a recog­ni­tion of every­one who stepped for­ward and vol­un­teered… and a way to thank them for their sac­ri­fices.”

After brief remarks at Buck­les’ gravesite, an Old Guard fir­ing par­ty fired three rifle vol­leys and a U.S. Army Band bugler sent the wail of “Taps” across the bur­ial grounds. Buck­les was laid to rest in Arlington’s Sec­tion 34, slight­ly down the hill and with­in view of Army Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing’s gravesite, and site of Arlington’s World War I Nation­al Memo­r­i­al that bears Pershing’s words.

“You are remem­bered,” it says, rec­og­niz­ing 116,516 Amer­i­cans killed in World War I. “Their devo­tion, their val­or and their sac­ri­fice will live for­ev­er in the hearts of their grate­ful coun­try­men.”

Per­sh­ing com­mand­ed the Amer­i­can Expe­di­tionary Forces in World War I — the “War to End all Wars” — that 16-year-old Buck­les quit school with dreams of becom­ing a part of. After lying about his age to one recruiter after anoth­er, he final­ly hood­winked one into enlist­ing him into the Army in August 1917.

The Unit­ed States had entered World War I just four months ear­li­er, and Buck­les was among few­er than 422,000 sol­diers at the time. But with­in a year, he watched the Army swell to 2.4 mil­lion, most of it serv­ing in the Amer­i­can Expe­di­tionary Force.

Buck­les deployed to the West­ern Front, dri­ving an ambu­lance in France and Ger­many and earn­ing the rank of cor­po­ral before his dis­charge in 1920. As he lived out his lat­er years in West Vir­ginia, Buck­les worked tire­less­ly to ensure the sac­ri­fices made dur­ing World War I nev­er be for­got­ten. One of his pet projects was a cam­paign to refur­bish a lit­tle-known memo­r­i­al to World War I vet­er­ans from the Dis­trict of Colum­bia and reded­i­cate it as a nation­al memo­r­i­al.

In 2008, on the death of 108-year-old Har­ry Richard Lan­dis, Buck­les became the sole liv­ing link to more than 4.7 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who served in that war.

It’s a role he embraced, vis­it­ing the Pen­ta­gon at age 107 for the unveil­ing of a World War I vet­er­ans’ exhib­it. “Who­ev­er views this dis­play will, I am sure, feel a con­nec­tion to Mr. Buck­les and his com­rades-in-arms,” Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said dur­ing that pre­sen­ta­tion. “We will always be grate­ful for what they did for their coun­try 90 years ago.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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