The chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces has joined the effort to convince congressional leaders to let the remains of the last-known American World War I veteran lie in state inside the Capitol Rotunda.
In a letter today to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., is requesting a vote as soon as House members reconvene next week on a resolution giving Frank Buckles, who died Sunday in West Virginia at the age of 110, the extraordinary honor, as some other lawmakers are urging.
“The honor to lie in state in the rotunda of the Capitol is not for an individual, but in recognition of extraordinary service to our country,” Bartlett wrote in the letter.
Buckles had entered the Army at the age of 16 and served in England and France during the war as an ambulance driver and later as an escort for returning German prisoners of war. He spent his latter years working to ensure that WWI veterans were remembered for their service.
“As the last surviving veteran of WWI, Mr. Frank Buckles is the last representative of an extraordinary generation of Americans who answered the call to serve, defend, and preserve democracy in the world,” Bartlett also wrote.
Bartlett goes on to assert, “Approval of H.Con. Res 20 is the last opportunity that Congress has to honor the selfless sacrifice of the nearly five million individuals who served in the military for the United States during WWI from a population of 92 million.”
But Boehner’s office says that as of Friday afternoon nothing has changed—a rotunda ceremony for Buckles still is not in the speaker’s plans. Instead, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the speaker and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., are seeking Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ permission for a ceremony for Buckles at the amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.
Steel has not explained what the opposition is to honoring Buckles at the rotunda, but has indicated Reid also has had a hand in it. Reid’s office has not confirmed that.
Lying in state in the rotunda is an honor usually reserved for former presidents and distinguished members of Congress. On occasion, exceptions are made for extraordinary, unelected citizens. In 2005, civil rights activist Rosa Parks lay in the Rotunda and the distinction also was bestowed on two slain U.S. Capitol Police officers in 1998.
With his letter, however, Bartlett joins West Virginia’s two senators, Democrats Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, and other lawmakers, who clearly think Buckles fits that extraordinary description, and are urging the use of the rotunda for a ceremony to honor Buckles.
Rockefeller and Manchin, who are sponsoring a resolution to do so in the Senate, have blamed Boehner for blocking the possibility. The House resolution is sponsored by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va.
Manchin has urged Boehner to reconsider. And Rockefeller did the same in a statement today, saying, “This is a big disappointment and a surprising decision by the speaker.”