MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Friends of the last living American-born veteran of World War I have persuaded federal officials to allow the 107-year-old to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery when he dies.
Frank Woodruff Buckles, who met with President Bush in Washington, D.C., last month, had been eligible for cremation and placement in a columbarium at Arlington, but daughter Susannah Flanagan said Thursday that he preferred a burial.
To be buried underground, Buckles would have had to meet a variety of criteria, including earning one of five medals, such as a Purple Heart. Buckles never saw combat.
After Flanagan first raised the issue with her father last year, friends took up the cause, privately calling and e-mailing the Pentagon, the White House and others in the federal government for an exception.
"I wasn't asking for this," Flanagan said. "I had asked to find out if he was eligible."
First, she received a phone call from Army Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon Jr. Then, on March 19, a letter arrived at Gap View Farm in Charles Town, informing Buckles that upon his passing, he could be buried in the cemetery where many of his friends lie.
Two days later, an official certificate in a blue, leather-bound book arrived, signed by Huntoon.
Buckles responded in his typically understated style: "He was like, 'No kidding,"' his daughter said with a chuckle. "He didn't jump up and down."
"He had an exception to policy," said cemetery spokeswoman Phyllis White.
Born in Missouri in 1901 and raised in Oklahoma, Buckles visited a string of military recruiters after the United States entered the "war to end all wars" in April 1917. He was rejected by the Marines and the Navy, but eventually persuaded an Army captain he was 18 and enlisted.
Buckles spent his tour of duty working mainly as a driver and a warehouse clerk in Germany and France. After Armistice Day, he helped return prisoners of war to Germany. And in January 1920, he returned to the States aboard the USS Pocahontas.
When his wife died years ago, she was cremated. And about a year ago, Flanagan began to wonder where her father would ultimately rest. When she asked his preference, he said, "Well, what about Arlington?"
It's a place where many of his friends are buried, and a place he has visited many times. So he was "surprised and pleased" by word that he, too, could be buried there, she said.