Ninety years after surviving World War I and 60 years after enduring a Japanese prisoner of war camp, Frank Woodruff Buckles on Thursday emerged unscathed from a Senate hearing.
The only living American-born veteran of World War I, now 108, was on Capitol Hill to lend his support for legislation, named in his honor, to dedicate a World War I memorial on the National Mall.
"An excellent idea," Buckles told a panel of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Before the hearing, Buckles, wearing a ribbon commemorating his service, was greeted and shook hands with a procession of senators, including subcommittee chairman Mark Udall, D-Colo., and his home-state senator, Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, followed by a group of high school students serving as Senate pages.
Buckles, born in 1901, talked his way into the Army at age 16. He drove ambulances and motorcycles and helped return prisoners of war to Germany after the armistice. He was working as a civilian for an American shipping company when he was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942 and spent three years in a prison camp.
His daughter Susannah Buckles Flanagan, who lives with him on a farm in Charles Town, W.Va., said her father, who uses a wheelchair, now has difficulty hearing but still enjoys reading and exercise every day.
The centenarian is lending his name to legislation that would rededicate a monument now honoring District of Columbia World War I veterans as a memorial for the more than 4 million Americans who served in the war. The Mall already has memorials honoring veterans of World War II and the conflicts in Vietnam and Korea.
The legislation has competition: Missouri lawmakers are promoting a measure that has passed the House that would designate Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., as the National World War I Memorial. Gen. John Pershing and four Allied military leaders attended the dedication of that 217-foot structure in 1921.
The National World War I Museum, designated by Congress as the war's official museum, opened at Liberty Memorial in 2006.
Paul Strauss, a District of Columbia politician who advocates giving D.C. citizens a vote in Congress, also objected to a national takeover of the local monument, saying it "diminishes an already disenfranchised population."
The National Mall memorial bill is S. 2097. The Missouri memorial bill is S. 760 and H.R. 1849.