Battle brews over how to honor Frank Buckles
WASHINGTON (AP) - The longest-living American to serve in World War I survived war and prison camps, but in death he couldn't escape Washington politics.
Nearly a week after Frank Buckles died at the age of 110, politicians on Friday were still at odds over how best to honor Buckles and the 4.7 million other Americans who served during World War I, which was called the war to end all wars.
Lawmakers from Buckles' home state of West Virginia want to see his remains lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda and have expressed their unhappiness at House and Senate leaders who have resisted that idea.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., are seeking Pentagon permission for holding ceremonies in the amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery, where Buckles will be buried.
Talks were still going on in the Senate about a resolution, offered by West Virginia's two Democratic senators, to approve use of the Rotunda to honor Buckles, but the indecision was frustrating Buckles' family.
"The leadership of Congress is standing in the way" of a Rotunda ceremony, said David DeJonge, Buckles' biographer and the family spokesman. "We want the highest level of respect for all that Frank Buckles stands for," he said. "It's not about Frank, it is about the passing of a generation."
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the author of a House resolution approving a Rotunda ceremony, still would have that as her first choice, said her spokeswoman, Jamie Corley. But Capito also thinks a ceremony at Arlington would be a fitting tribute. "She just wants a ceremony that will properly remember Frank Buckles and all World War I veterans."
Corley said the political "bickering does not do justice to Mr. Buckles or his fellow WWI veterans. Let's do something that would properly honor them."
On Thursday West Virginia's Democratic senators, Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin II, blamed the Republican Boehner for blocking a ceremony in the Rotunda, the heart of the Capitol.
Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, countered that the criticism was "misdirected" because the Rotunda is controlled jointly by the House and Senate and decisions on its use come from both sides.
Neither Boehner nor Reid explained their position on the Rotunda's use.
"Like everyone else, Sen. Reid honors Mr. Buckles for his service to our country, which is why last night the Senate passed a resolution honoring him," said Reid's spokesman, Jon Summers.
The resolution recognizes Buckles as "the last veteran to represent the extraordinary legacy of the World War I veterans" and lauds the contributions of all who served in that war.
Lying in honor - or in the case of elected U.S. officials or military officers lying in state - in the Rotunda is a rare event, occurring only 30 times since Sen. Henry Clay was the first to be so recognized in 1852.
Among those who have lain in the Rotunda are 11 presidents, including all four who were assassinated, war leaders such as John J. Pershing and Douglas MacArthur, statesmen such as Hubert Humphrey and Charles Sumner, and unknown soldiers from World War I and II and the Vietnam War. The last to lie in state was President Gerald Ford in 2007.
But DeJonge pointed out that the honor has not been solely reserved for national leaders. In 1998 visitors came to the Rotunda to pay their respects to two Capitol Hill police officers slain by a deranged gunman, and in 2005 the remains of civil rights leader Rosa Parks attracted large crowds to the Capitol.
Buckles enlisted at the age of 16 after lying about his age, He served in England and France, mostly as a driver and warehouse clerk. In 1941, while on business in the Philippines, Buckles was captured by the Japanese and spent more than three years in prison camps. In recent years he has campaigned for establishment of a national memorial in Washington for those who served in World War I.
President Barack Obama has ordered that flags on U.S. government buildings fly at half-staff on the day Buckles is buried.