Frank Buckle’s Final Battle…

Yesterday, February 1, 2011, Frank Buckles turned 110.  That in itself is an accomplishment, since the man, for one thing, has suffered from the effects of beriberi most of his life.   A disease common in men being starved to death in a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines during the second world war.  But what makes Frank Buckles even more unique is he is the last living doughboy from WWI.  Yeah that’s a “one”.

He lied about his age, 16, and looked more like a boy scout in his uniform than he did a fighting soldier. He volunteered as an ambulance driver because he knew it would get him to the front, in the thick of it, where he wanted to be. 

Frank doesn’t give interviews anymore, but he has mounted one final fight. His cause is the creation of a National World War I Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC.  Now it might surprise you that there is not a monument on the Mall to World War I.  But in fact there is a memorial to the 499 from the District of Columbia that died in the conflict.  It was dedicated in 1931.




The decaying World War I Memorial dedicated by President Hoover in 1931.

War memorials were usually in the communities that the fallen called home.  It wasn’t until 1982 that the Mall unveiled the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the first national memorial to America’s fallen heroes.  That was followed by the national memorial to the veterans of the “The War To End All Wars,” WWII, and then the National Korean War Memorial which was dedicated on July 27, 1995.

When I visited the Mall, I found it to be the most moving monument of them all.  You walk along side a bigger than life-size squad of soldiers in full battle gear on dawn patrol. They are representative of all the services; Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy. 

The dawn patrol at the National Korean War Memorial.

You used to be able to walk among them, and it was very moving for me on a late June afternoon, but now it is cordoned off.  Stay off the grass.  But in this case it’s stay off the juniper bushes which were used to mimic the rugged terrain.  The soldiers are reflected on a black granite wall that has 2500 photographic archival images sandblasted into it.  A photo montage of the brave soldiers that fought in the war.  A further granite wall bears the simple message, inlaid in silver: “Freedom Is Not Free.” 
Mr. Buckles ran into a stumbling block with his monument, because the “official” WWI Memorial is in Kansas City, MO. (It’s closed today because of inclement weather, by the way. They got around a foot of snow yesterday with whiteout conditions.)  That hurdle has been crossed with an agreement to call both of the monuments the “National World War I Memorial”. Senate Bill 2097 “Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act” didn’t make it out of committee in 2009 and hasn’t been reintroduced.
I think we should let our elected officials know it’s time to take up the matter.  Is there more pressing business in the Senate?  Probably, but I don’t think there is anything more important than honoring those that pay the ultimate price for freedom.
UPDATE:  Frank Buckles died 26 days after his 110th birthday, on February 27th, 2011.  I understand that a documentary film on his life is in the works with an expected 2011 release date.  Watch for it.




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