Mourners pay respects to last WWI veteran

Frank Buckles
Frank Buckles receives an American flag during Memorial Day activities at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Mo., on May 26, 2008 file photo. Buckles will be buried Tuesday with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Charlie Riedel / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Wearing a black POW-MIA beret and a vest emblazoned with "Vietnam Veteran," Charles D. White stood and saluted the flag-draped casket holding the body of Frank Buckles, the last American veteran of World War I.

White, who walks with a cane, then turned around stiffly and marched away.

Buckles will be buried Tuesday with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Visitations were being held Sunday and Monday at Joseph Gawler's Sons Chapel in Washington, and starting Tuesday morning, Buckles' body will lie in repose at the cemetery's memorial amphitheater.

Buckles enlisted in the Army at 16 after lying about his age. He died last month at his home in Charles Town, W.Va., at age 110.

A slow but steady stream of friends, veterans and others filed past Buckles' casket Sunday afternoon. His relatives were not there.

White and two friends, Donna Collis and Marvin A. Stickel, drove to the visitation from Martinsburg, W.Va. They are planning a candlelight vigil later this month to raise money for Buckles' daughter to use for memorial efforts.

White, a 64-year-old former Navy SEAL, said the government hasn't done enough to honor veterans of World War I and other conflicts.

"Washington could do more than what they're doing if they wanted to," he said. "We all know that."

Buckles' daughter, Susannah Flanagan, had wanted her father to lie in repose in the U.S. Capitol, but Congress failed to approve that plan as politicians clashed over how best to honor Buckles and the 4.7 million other Americans who served in WWI. A family spokesman has said the family is satisfied with the honors at Arlington.

Born in Missouri and raised in Oklahoma, Buckles visited a string of military recruiters and was repeatedly rejected before convincing an Army captain he was 18. Only two WWI veterans are known to survive worldwide.

Kirk Goolsby, 41, a biology professor from Warrenton, Va., interviewed Buckles in 2000 as part of a living-history project on WWI veterans. He said Buckles offered lucid and detailed memories of his time in the Army.

"Somebody had to be the last, and I'm glad it was him," said Goolsby, who interviewed more than 50 veterans in several countries. "I wish everyone I've met could be so honored."