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Reflections on the burial of Frank Buckles

IWP salutes America’s last veteran from WWI, Corporal Frank Buckles, whose funeral and burial took place on March 15, 2011.  Below are a reflections by staff member Linda Strating and student Michael Webber.

Frank Buckles is special to all of us because he’s the last living American soldier to have witnessed the horrors of WWI, which resulted in more than 116,000 American casualties (8.5 million people died altogether in that war).  This young man Buckles, though, lied about his age in order to serve his country, and did so as an ambulance driver.  Buckles was not the last to lie about his age in order to join; many young men have done so in order to offer up their service to the Nation.  It’s selfless sacrifice of the highest order; for as the Scripture says, “He who lays down his life for my sake shall find it.”

Arlington Cemetery is the most hallowed ground in all of America – for although it is but one of many military cemeteries, it’s become a lasting landmark for all we hold true and dear to our collective heart: honor, bravery, duty, protection of the innocent, service, God, country, freedom (for us and others); its reverent silence is deafening if you but listen. The U.S. has always shown the way when it comes to the manifestation of these virtues, and I hope it always remains so.  Witness Section 27, where you’ll find intermingled the graves of slaves, Union and Confederate soldiers, child dependents of military service members, and Medal of Honor winners.  Almost a half million markers made of marble line up in neat rows over an expanse of hundreds of acres, in the exact precision the services are known for, as if waiting for your inspection and regard.  It’s mind-boggling, and it’s beautiful to behold.

Buckles was the last member of a select group who, although serving at the lowly rank of corporal, was buried in Section 34 at Arlington, a mere few feet from General John ‘Black Jack’ Pershing, the commanding general of fighting forces during WWI (and one of only two 6-star Generals of the Armies, the other being George Washington).  Their grave stones will be identical markers in shape and size of their presence on earth, with incredibly disparate experiences yet equal in the sight of God and those who love this Nation.  No one knows which WWI soldier is honored in the Tomb of the Unknowns, but I’ll never forget that Frank Buckles was the last of that exceptional group from the U.S. to leave this earth.

Soldiers are special people.  We should honor them every chance we get.  For me to have honored Buckles was a privilege.  Several hundred strangers joined a procession of Congressmen and women, military of all stripes and branches, American Indian honor guards, the Rolling Thunder’s Patriot Guards, and the majestic musicians of the Army and its beloved Old Guard.  President Obama and Vice President Biden both visited with the family prior to the beginning of the funeral service. The Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Peter Chiarelli presented the folded flag to the family members (which included a daughter and granddaughter). The procession of vehicles, motorcycles, musicians, American Indians, and strangers paid tribute to the ongoing legacy of all of those who choose to serve, regardless of the cost.  Each of them is precious, and a hero.

– Linda Strating, IWP Director of Professional Affiliations

Frank Buckles, the last surviving Doughboy from World War I, died on February 27th. He was the ripe old age of 110. I paid my respects and attended his funeral in Arlington National Cemetery today. Several hundred people gathered to watch and to join in his procession through the cemetery from the chapel. It was an extremely humbling and reverent experience.

As I reflect on my study of history, I only become more awed by the sacrifice of the people of his generation, from which all who served are now gone. And yet many of them sacrificed everything for their country. Those who returned from the war lived and enjoyed their lives honoring their fallen comrades.

At points, my emotions almost got the better of me as we walked solemnly and somberly through the cemetery, although I didn’t show them in my facial features. My reflections during those few hours in Arlington left me with a sense of sadness for the family and our nation, but also, and more importantly, with a sense of hope and motivation.

The ceremony was more than a funeral. It was a patriotic gathering by a few Americans to celebrate the life and sacrifice of a generation now returned to ashes. Mr. Buckles and the people of his generation represented the best of our nation. The generation that followed proved they were worthy of this great nation, as well during their service in World War II.

As my generation moves forward and begins to lead America, individuals like Frank Buckles who exhibited service, sacrifice and patriotism should be our guide. If we follow his guide, our nation will live up to its potential and continue to be the city on a hill our founding fathers and the generations of Americans who have come after them hoped it could be. I only hope I am up to the task.

– Michael D. Webber, Masters Candidate, IWP

Photos below of the burial are by Linda Strating.

 Frank Buckles, March 15, 2011, Photo by Linda Strating_1

Frank Buckles, March 15, 2011, Photo by Linda Strating_2

Frank Buckles, March 15, 2011, Photo by Linda Strating_3