America pays final respects to last WWI veteran
March 15, 2011
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, March 15, 2011) -- Hundreds of visitors to Arlington National Cemetery filed through the Memorial Amphitheater Chapel here to pay respects to America's last "Doughboy."
A guard from the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) stood watch over the flag-draped casket of Cpl. Frank Buckles in the chapel. Buckles, who died Feb. 27 at 110 years old, was America's last World War I veteran.
Buckles had enlisted at the age of 16 by reportedly convincing an Army captain that he was older. He was the last living American doughboy to have served in France during World War I and the last of 4.7 million U.S. troops who signed up to fight the Kaiser 94 years ago.
Buckles later spent three years as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II after being captured in the Pacific while serving as a U.S. contractor. He died of natural causes at his home in Charles Town, W.Va., according to a family spokesman.
"It was really something to think that (he) is the last American from the First World War," said Albert Berkowitz, himself a former Soldier. "And it just made me think, that in 20 or 25 years, it'll probably be the Second World War this will be happening for. In 20 years it'll be them -- there are less and less of them."
Berkowitz was in the Army, as a private first class, from 1963-1965. He served as a microwave technician in Japan, first at Camp Tomlinson in Kashiwa, then in Okinawa. "It was great duty," he said.
Berkowitz was originally from Belgium and came to the United States when he was 12. His wife Esther came to the U.S. when she was two. The two were visiting Washington from Brooklyn.
"I find Arlington a very inspiring place," Esther said.
While Esther said they didn't know anyone who might be buried in the cemetery -- she did say she knew some that have died in World War II, "but not as Soldiers -- our families," she said.
Albert confirmed -- both he and Esther had escaped from Europe during the war, though not all in their families had been so lucky.
Corey O'Dell, of Round Rock, Texas, was also visiting the cemetery and passed through the chapel with his mother, Kathryn and brother, Ethan -- he clutched a World War II history book in his hand.
"I do have some WWI books at home and I study a lot about WWII," he said, adding his take on Buckles -- "He was a pretty good man."
Buckle's casket remained in the chapel at the cemetery until about 4 p.m. Tuesday, when the Old Guard took it to the burial site in the cemetery. Buckles was buried with full military honors in section 34 of the cemetery, within sight of Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, leader of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.