House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wants to honor Frank Buckles -- the last surviving World War I veteran until his death on Sunday at age 110 –- in a special ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, but not in the Capitol, as suggested by some other lawmakers.
Boehner's office said the speaker had no plans to allow Buckles’ body to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, as some lawmakers from Buckles’ home state of West Virginia have proposed.
“The speaker intends to ask Secretary [Robert] Gates to allow Mr. Buckles’ family to use the amphitheater at Arlington cemetery for his memorial service,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said today.
“That way, it will be near the tomb of the unknown soldier, who also fell in World War I,” said Steel. Steel would not elaborate on why a Capitol ceremony for Buckles was not in Boehner’s plans.
Buckles died in his hometown of Charles Town, W. Va. He had entered the Army at 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.
In response to Buckles' death, both Sen. John "Jay" Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. have introduced resolutions to allow Buckles to lie in honor inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, which would allow the public to pay their respects to Buckles by filing past his casket. This is a honor usually reserved for former presidents and distinguished members of Congress. On occasion, exceptions are made for extraordinary unelected average citizens. In 2005, Civil Rights hero Rosa Parks lay in state, and the honor was bestowed on two slain Capitol police officers in 1998. Before that, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was the last unelected person to lay in state in the Rotunda in 1964.
“I gotta say, I am stunned that anyone could object to a ceremony here in the Capitol Rotunda honoring the last World War I veteran. We do ceremonies here all the time -- I think next week we are honoring the Australian prime minister. What better way to pay tribute to the last veteran of the great war than to have the United States Congress salute Frank Buckles one last time,” said Vincent Morris, communications director for the Senate Commerce Committee, of which Rockefeller is chairman.
Morris said the planned ceremony at Arlington is nice, but that also, “this guy is special and deserves a special tribute.”
In announcing his resolution, Rockefeller said in a statement Tuesday that he expected the Senate to agree this week to his resolution.
He added, “I have been working with the Buckles family to find a fitting tribute to honor Mr. Buckles, and this resolution will help make that possible by celebrating Mr. Buckles’ life in the U.S Capitol Rotunda. I will continue to work with the Army, Senate leadership, and Arlington National Cemetery to make certain that he receives the honorable memorial service that he deserves as we celebrate his long, full life.”
Capito said in announcing her House version that, “Mr. Buckles represented the very best of this great country — service, determination and patriotism.”
Asked today if Capito was OK with not allowing Buckles to lie in honor inside the rotunda, her spokesperson Jamie Corley said, “The congresswoman has said all along that she wants to ensure Frank Buckles is properly honored and any remembrance is in line with the wishes of the Buckles family.”
“A ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery would be a fitting tribute to his military service and the sacrifices he and his fellow ‘doughboys’ made in World War I,” said Corley.
This article appears in the March 3, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.