Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I wonder what Frank would think of all this.

There are thousands of people across America currently enlisted in the effort to see that Frank Buckles, America's last WWI veteran, is given the honor of lying in honor in the US Capitol rotunda.

Some might have thought that this would be a simple task. All that needed being done was the asking and permission would have been granted. But once again, things are not as they appear in Washington DC. Nothing is ever easy in Washington DC.

Before he died, the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia and then Senator Richard Burr of West Virginia, penned letters requesting this honor of their fellow senators and representatives on behalf of Frank Buckles. Since Frank Buckles passing on February 27th, Both of the current US senators of West Virginia have sponsored resolutions in the senate. And US Representative Shelly Capoti has sponsored a resolution to honor Frank Buckles in the house. Both of these resolutions are seeking to bestow the honor of a grateful nation, by allowing Frank Buckles remains to lie in honor in the Capitol rotunda.

These resolutions have gained bipartisan support in both houses and as of today, there are a number of members in the house and the senate who are seeking to see that Frank Buckles is paid a fitting tribute to his life, his service and the millions who in the end he became the surviving representative of.

Yet things are never easy in Washington. Especially not when their are political axes to be ground or political points to be scored, or political opponents to be injured or vanquished. One might think that there isn't anything political about honoring Frank Buckles or the movement to see him honored in the Capitol rotunda, but there obviously is something political for those now obstructing these resolutions and the honor being requested.

Since last Saturday, many people across America have been working tirelessly to try and obtain the honor that Frank Buckles and his generation deserves. Since the news first broke that Speaker of the House John Boehner had blocked the resolution in the house and sought the cooperation of Senate Majority Leader Reid to do the same in the senate, thousands across America have banded together on social networking sites like FaceBook, trying to sway the minds of two of the most partisan and closed minded individuals in Washington DC. To date, that mission remains uncompleted. Their hearts and minds remain hardened.

Today is Wednesday, March the 9th. Frank Buckles interment and Arlington National Cemetery is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15th. A privilege that would not have occurred, except for special permission granted by President George W. Bush back in 2008. (citation)

Speaker Boehner and Senate leader Reid believe that holding a ceremony in the Arlington Memorial amphitheater is all that is required to pay tribute to Frank Buckles and all that should be afforded. As of yesterday, they forwarded a letter of request to that effect to Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. Gates is in Afghanistan right now, but I am sure the formality of approval has been moved easily along the proper channels at the Department of Defense.

The same way the request to have Frank Buckles honored in the US Capitol rotunda would have moved easily along US Capitol channels, had Speaker Boehner and Leader Reid simply done the right thing from the beginning.

Some have questioned the monetary costs of such tributes. During the present times of economic uncertainty, do we really need to expend the resources required to honor Frank Buckles. I say yes we do. I believe that we are honor bound to do no less regardless of the costs.  Just as we need to expend appropriate resources to honor those currently serving and dying in our behalf and in the service of this nation in Afghanistan and Iraq and all across this planet.

Calvin Coolidge once remarked, "The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten".

I believe no truer or more prescient observation of our obligation to those who serve in the uniform of this nation has ever been uttered.

As a Viet Nam veteran I personally know the pain of service forgotten. There are now 58,267 names on a wall in Washington honoring that service, but it took seven years, seven months and fifteen days to erect that wall. Only after the veterans and their families became a cacophony of cries for remembrance and honor that would not be silenced, was a tribute and memorial finally raised to honor their service and their sacrifices. The names on that memorial wall, now consecrate the efforts expended to remember them.

Every year Americans remember Armistice Day on November 11th, although we no longer call it by that name. We now call it Veterans Day. November 11th, 1918 was the day that the Great War WWI ended. Armistice Day was in honor and remembrance of that day and those who served. The war to end all wars theoretically ended that November day, but we all now know differently, it wasn't to be the war to end all wars.

What we do not know as a nation and what no one ever talks about as it concerns that time in our history, is the fact that those who served and fought in the war to end all wars were the first generation of the forgotten. There are no national memorials honoring their sacrifices. Only a simple marble rotunda off the Mall in Washington DC. Obscured by trees and not listed on the tour brochures of the great war memorials. Not many even know that it exists, because it is not a national monument.

Most people are familiar with the Viet Nam Wall, the Korean War Memorial and the most recent addition, the WWII Memorial, but no one considers the fact that there are no national tributes to those who served during WWI. That simple marble rotunda of pillars off the national mall? It was erected by the citizens of Washington DC to honor their dead. To honor those from the district who fought and died.

November 11th, 1918. It has been eighty two years two months and nine days and yet no national monument or tribute exists in our Capitol city to honor the 4.7 million who served and sacrificed for this nation. No one one has stood up and taken up the banner of that cause, save one. The sole individual to attempt this battle, accepted that responsibility and took on the cause on his own. This sole individual stood up to be recognized as the last of the last and the face of that lost generation. The one person to stand and ask, 'do my brothers not deserve to be remembered also?' That individual was Frank Buckles.

In the last few years of his life, Frank Buckles became the sole crusader for a national monument and the face of his generation. Frank was  not seeking to honor himself, but rather to simply request that which has been previously bestowed on so many others. Frank asked that honor be granted to those who have stood silently and died one by one, for over eighty years now. When asked what he thought of possibly being honored after his death in the US Capitol rotunda, Frank said that he believed that it was his last duty to represent all the WWI veterans by accepting that honor and responsibility.

The window of time is rapidly closing for America to honor Frank Buckles and the millions he honorably represented until his own death. Frank in the end lived a full life and toward the end of that life, he made and met countless friends across this nation.

As of today, Wednesday March the 9th, there remain those in the halls of congress who are obstructing every effort to honor Frank Buckles and the lost generation as they should be honored.

In 2008, when the last French WWI veteran passed away, the French government proved him with a state funeral and full military honors. President Nickolas Sarkozy attended the service.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) stands with former president Jacques Chirac at a ceremony to pay tribute to the dead of World War One in a state funeral for Lazare Ponticelli, aged 110, France's last surviving WWI veteran, at the Invalides in Paris on March 17, 2008. Ponticelli, an Italian immigrant who joined the Foreign Legion as a 16 year-old at the outbreak of the war with Germany in 1914, died last week.

When Great Britain's last three surviving WWI veterans died in 2009, the UK provided services at Westminster Abby and the Queen of England and the Prime Minister were in attendance to honor them.

The Queen and and Prince Phillip arrive at the memorial service at Westminster Abbey

As of this writing, Frank Buckles and his generation continue to be denied the highest honors that this nation can bestow. However, according to Mr. David Dejonge (President of the foundation leading the cause to create a National WWI memorial in DC ) on his Facebook site a few minutes ago,  the French have decided their course of action and response to Mr. Buckles passing.  

"France has made the first contact and is currently leaving the US in the dust- they will send a delegation including a three star general to honor Frank."

So as the final hours of the battle  to honor Frank Buckles in the US rotunda wane, I wonder,  what would Frank Buckles think of all this fuss and controversy. I am reasonably sure that he would tell us if he could, 

I appreciate your efforts, but it's not about me, for I am just a small part of the larger need to honor all who served. Remember there are over four million watching along side me now. They are waiting to see how their nation responds and if they will respond. Of course, they have waited quite a long time already. They will continue to wait and watch and hope. 

In the interim, weep not for me. I am home now and once again in the company of my friends and comrades and I appreciate the efforts of all who have taken the time to honor and remember us. Thank you.

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