Flag ceremonies honor passing of last American World War I veteran
Spc. Aaron Gant, from Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic and Pvt. Tyler Weatherford, from the U.S. Marine Corps Detachment, prepare to raise the flag to full mast after the retreat ceremony honoring Army Cpl. Frank W. Buckles at the installation flagpole March 15. Buckles was the last surviving American veteran of World War I at his death Feb. 27.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Aberdeen Proving Ground joined U.S. military bases, vessels and diplomatic outposts worldwide March 15 as they flew their flags at half staff in honor of Cpl. Frank W. Buckles.

Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, died at age 110 Feb. 27. President Barack Obama ordered the nation's flags to be flown at half staff March 15-the day Buckles was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery-as a sign of respect normally reserved for heads of state, members of Congress and to mark national tragedies.

The reveille and retreat ceremonies that took place at the flagpole in front of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command headquarters also served as a tribute to all American veterans of World War I, according to the president's proclamation.

Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney Rhoades noted that the event should remind everyone of their duty to today's Soldiers.

"It was right and fitting that the president, the country and APG honored Buckles the way we did, because he was the last representative of a generation of men and women who served our country in World War I," said Rhoades.

"Even though Buckles fought in what was called the war to end all wars, we are again a country at war," he said. "That makes these ceremonies even more important because another generation is fighting far from home, just as Buckles and his fellow Soldiers did.

"Soldiers and Families today are making the same kinds of sacrifices made by Soldiers and Families during that war. That's because, despite the passage of time and how the world has changed, sending our young men and women off to fight and maybe die far from home has not changed."

Rhoades said that taking care of veterans continues long after the fighting stops.

"This ceremony helped us reflect on that, by honoring a man who was a Soldier in war more than 90 years ago," Rhoades said. "In fact, he became a Soldier less than six months before the Army formally took over what is now APG. By the time we executed our first mission here in January 1918, he was already serving in the war zone.

"So while he was becoming a Soldier and deploying, the Army was founding APG," said Rhoades, putting the timeline in perspective. "That tie should be a powerful reminder that we are here for Soldiers. It's hard to find equipment on the modern battlefield that wasn't in some way touched by APG while it was being conceived, designed and tested. So all those present-day Soldiers and future veterans have a tie to APG. They may not know about that connection, but it should be what keeps us going every day."

The meaning of the event was not lost on the color guard that performed the ceremonies here.

"The passing of this veteran was significant to all of the Soldiers involved," said Fred Posadas, a retired command sergeant major and civilian employee with the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. Posadas trained the Soldiers who participated in the color guard on proper procedures the previous day. The color guard was composed of three Soldiers, two Marines and one civilian, all of whom volunteered.

"It was an emotional occasion," said Posadas. "Mr. Buckles sacrificed for his country; he [also] was a prisoner of war during World War II."

Sgt. Billy Falla, from the garrison's Headquarters and Headquarters Company served as the color guard leader and said he was grateful to pay tribute to an American hero.

"This is a way to remember the last Soldier to serve in World War I," said Falla. "To participate in an occasion like this is a great honor."

After the retreat ceremony, the color guard raised another flag to full staff. Due to the decreased military population at APG, the installation does not have daily reveille and retreat ceremonies.

For more photos, visit www.flickr.com/photos/usagapg/.

Page last updated Thu March 24th, 2011 at 14:02