Frank Buckles, the last living U.S. World War I veteran, has died, a spokesman for his family said Sunday. He was 110.
- A family spokesman says Frank Buckles died peacefully in his West Virginia home
- Plans call for burial at Arlington National Cemetery
- Frank Buckles had been pushing for national status for a World War I memorial in Washington
Buckles "died peacefully in his home of natural causes" early Sunday morning, the family said in a statement sent to CNN late Sunday by spokesman David DeJonge.
Buckles marked his 110th birthday on February 1, but his family had earlier told CNN he had slowed considerably since last fall, according his daughter Susannah Buckles Flanagan, who lives at the family home near Charles Town, West Virginia.
Buckles, who served as a U.S. Army ambulance driver in Europe during what became known as the "Great War," rose to the rank of corporal before the war ended. He came to prominence in recent years, in part because of the work of DeJonge, a Michigan portrait photographer who had undertaken a project to document the last surviving veterans of that war.
As the years continued, all but Buckles had passed away, leaving him the "last man standing" among U.S. troops who were called "The Doughboys."
DeJonge found himself the spokesman and advocate for Buckles in his mission to see to it that his comrades were honored with a monument on the National Mall, alongside memorials for veterans of World War II and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
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"I have to," he told CNN when he came to Washington, as part of what he considered his responsibility to honor the memory of fellow-veterans.
Buckles, after World War I ended, took up a career as a ship's officer on merchant vessels. He was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II and held prisoner of war for more than three years before he was freed by U.S. troops.
Never saying much about his POW experience, Buckles instead wanted attention drawn to the plight of the D.C. War Memorial. During a visit to the run-down, neglected site a few years ago, he went past the nearby World War II memorial without stopping, even as younger veterans stopped and saluted the old soldier in his wheelchair as he went by.
Renovations to the structure began last fall, but Buckles, with his health already failing, could not make a trip to Washington to review the improvements. The National Park Service is overseeing efforts that include replacing a neglected walkway and dressing up a deteriorated dome and marble columns.
Details for services and arrangements will be announced in the days ahead, the family statement said.
Flanagan, his daughter, said preliminary plans began weeks ago, with the Military District of Washington expressing its support for an honors burial at Arlington, including an escort platoon, a horse-drawn casket arrival, a band and a firing party.
"It has long been my father's wish to be buried in Arlington, in the same cemetery that holds his beloved General Pershing," Flanagan wrote as she began to prepare for the inevitable in a letter she sent to home-state U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia.
"I feel confident that the right thing will come to pass," she said.
In addition to graveside ceremonies, a proposal from U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, calls for a memorial in the U.S. Capitol, where Buckles' casket would be displayed with honors.
Buckles in 2008 attended Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington at the grave of Gen. John Pershing, the commander of U.S. troops during World War I.
He also had met with then-President George W. Bush at the White House, and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon.
"The First World War is not well understood or remembered in the United States," Gates said at the time. "There is no big memorial on the National Mall. Hollywood has not turned its gaze in this direction for decades. Yet few events have so markedly shaped the world we live in."
Buckles' family asks that donations be made to the National World War I Legacy Project to honor Frank Buckles and the 4,734,991 Americans that he served with during World War I. Details can be found at: www.frankbuckles.org