President & Vice President visit Arlington to honor the oldest & last American World War I veteran...
President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made an unscheduled trip to Arlington National Cemetery this afternoon to pay their last respects to US Army Corporal Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last living American World War I veteran, who died on Feb. 27th at the age of 110. At 3:00 PM, the President and Vice President spent about ten minutes inside Arlington's Amphitheater Chapel with Buckels' surviving family members, including his daughter, Susannah Buckles Flanagan. Buckels' coffin was draped with an American flag, and a wreath stood nearby. (Above: The President speaks with Flanagan in the chapel as the Vice President looks on)
After, the President and Vice President spoke with Buckles family members outside the chapel for a few minutes before heading back to the White House. At 4:00 PM, with full military honors, Buckles was interred in Section 34, at the bottom of the hill where Gen. John J. Pershing, his former leader and one of the Army's most famous generals, was buried in 1948.
"Michelle and I were inspired by the service and life story of former Army Corporal Frank W. Buckles," President Obama said in a statement after Buckles passed away. "Frank Buckles lived the American Century. Like so many veterans, he returned home, continued his education, began a career, and along with his late wife Audrey, raised their daughter Susannah."
While the President's visit to Arlington is indeed an honor, it is not quite the honor that Buckles' family and the West Virginia Congressional Delegation--and many Americans--had hoped for. There had been a push to hold a public viewing of Buckles' body in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, but the request was denied by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The honor is typically reserved for presidents, senators and generals. Buckles, however, was the final living link to The War To End All Wars. (Above: Buckles as a teenaged Doughboy in 1917)
In recent years, he was the spokesman for a national memorial for America's Great War vets, serving as Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation. Buckles was decorated with French and American honors for his military service.
A farmboy from Missouri who was born in 1901, Buckles joined the American Expeditionary Force in 1917 at age 16, after lying about his age. He was not only the last American veteran of the Great War, he was also the oldest survivor when he died. He served for three years in France and England, driving ambulances for the Army's 1st Fort Riley Casual Detachment, and was decorated with American and French military honors. In his private life after the second World War, Buckles lived with his family at Gap View Farm near Charles Town, West Virginia, where they raised cattle.
President Obama last month issued a proclamation ordering all US flags be flown at half-mast on the day of Buckles' interment. (Above: Buckles with Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon in 2008, when his portrait as a soldier of the great War was unveiled)
For his service, Buckles was awarded the World War I Victory Medal, the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal, and qualified for four Overseas Service Bars. French President Jacques Chirac awarded him France's Légion d'honneur. He was awarded the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Gold Medal of Merit in 2008.
*Top photo by Pete Souza/White House; second from archives; third by Cherie A. Thurlby, Department of Defense