Last American WWI veteran remembered at Liberty Memorial ceremony

The Kansas City Star

The last doughboy left Americans with a crucial challenge, a retired general said Saturday.

"Frank Buckles' passing means that there are no more living memories of World War I," said Richard Myers, a former Air Force general and the onetime chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"So it is important for all of us to keep this memory alive."

Spectators filled the east end of the main Liberty Memorial courtyard Saturday to honor Frank Woodruff Buckles. The last living American to have served in World War I, Buckles died Feb. 27 in West Virginia at age 110.

Buckles and his colleagues helped position the United States in a new way on the world stage, said Myers, the ceremony's keynote speaker.

They did so with great enthusiasm, Myers added.

Myers was struck, he said, by the optimism with which Americans left to serve -- at one point at a rate of about 10,000 a day through Kansas City's Union Station -- during the conflict in Europe.

But those who went "over there" also had a realistic sense of what awaited them, Myers said. All probably would have read the fearful accounts of the 1916 Battle of the Somme, which ended with an estimated 620,000 French and British casualties.

"They knew about all that, and yet they showed great courage," Myers said.

"What a sense of optimism, what a sense of altruism. They thought they could change the world, and that's what they did."

Buckles was born near Bethany, Mo., in Harrison County in 1901. On Saturday, two family members were present for the ceremony.

"It was an honor to see so many people here for him today," said Marissa Daniel, Buckles' great-great-niece and currently a graduate forestry student at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

"It was quite a tribute to him, and he would have been very proud," added her mother, Deb Daniel of Bethany.

Several speakers described Buckles' visit to Kansas City in 2008, in which he served as guest of honor for Memorial Day activities at the National World War I Museum.

David Clewell, Missouri's poet laureate, read three poems associated with the conflict, including "In Flanders Field."

George York, son of Alvin C. York, the Tennessee Medal of Honor winner portrayed in the 1941 film "Sergeant York," described how Buckles and his colleagues had to reconcile how they had served "in the war that was supposed to end all wars, but did not."

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver recalled how Buckles attended a 2009 Senate hearing regarding legislation that would determine the official status of the country's World War I memorials. A bill pending in Congress would declare the Liberty Memorial the "National World War I Museum and Memorial" and a separate location in Washington the "District of Columbia and National World War I Memorial."

"Frank Buckles was able to connect us to an event that occurred almost a century ago,' said Cleaver, who referred to Buckles' Feb. 27 death as the date when the last doughboy had been "honorably discharged."

He added: "Some might say he was simply transferred to a new unit."