‘Over There’: The Final Legacy
“Over there, over there, send the word, send the word, over there. That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming, and we won’t be back, till it’s over over there.” These were the words proudly sung by the American Doughboys as they headed “over there” to fight for freedom in the Great World War. Nearly a century later, the final legacy of the American Doughboy is in our
hands. How will we write the next pages of the final chapter?
At 109 years old, it is reasonable to assume there isn’t much left in life to accomplish. For most people that’s probably true. But for Frank Buckles, in his last chapter of life, his story is not quite done.
Frank Woodruff Buckles, is the last American Doughboy. He is a national treasure. I had the honor of meeting Frank as he joined me in Washington, D.C., to announce the Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act. The bill would refurbish and expand the local World War I Memorial on the National Mall for the soldiers of the District of Columbia. It has been Frank’s driving
passion to see that all the nearly 5 million Americans who fought in the War to End All Wars have a place among the memorials that honor our nation’s heroes.
Frank has become my driving force to see to it that this simple request is rightfully honored, and we, as a nation, recognize our last remaining Doughboy when that time comes.
It recently came to my attention that the family and friends of Mr. Buckles have asked that when he dies, we pay tribute to the end of a generation by allowing him the honor of a full military burial at Arlington Cemetery and that his body lie in honor in our nation’s Capitol. I was shocked to learn it will take an Act of Congress to accomplish this.
This isn’t just about Frank Buckles. This is about our history, our patriotism, our gratitude and respect for an entire generation – for the last American Doughboy. This is about honoring all 4,734,991 of them, all of whom have died except for this one remarkable man. Mr. Buckles still fights for the silent dead so they will be honored by America.
The First World War was dubbed the Great War, the War to End all Wars, the War of Wars. It was the second-deadliest conflict in history. The outcome changed the face of Europe. The Doughboy changed America.
When the war started, Frank was just 16. He tried to join the United States Marine Corps, but he was too young and too small. He finally convinced a recruiter to take him. He was a volunteer soldier. He went to Europe as a 16-year-old and fought. Learning that the fastest way to get “over there” was to drive an ambulance, Frank gladly enlisted. He drove an ambulance and rescued other Doughboys wounded in battle, before guarding German soldiers held at a prisoner-of-war camp.
After the war was over, Frank worked for a steamship company, which sent him to the Philippines. Early in World War II, he was captured by the Japanese and put in a brutal POW camp. He was a prisoner of war for more than three-and-a-half years until he was liberated by Americans on the very day he was to be executed. He weighed less than 100 pounds when he was released. His daughter said that when the prisoners dropped to 100 pounds they stopped weighing themselves.
Frank finally returned home to the United States, got married, raised a family and worked the American land as a farmer – driving his tractor until he was 102.
When you talk to our veterans about what it means to wear the uniform of the United States military, good ol’ American pride seems to burst at the seams. As we walk down the path of honor on the National Mall, we rightfully pay tribute to all those that sacrificed for our freedom. But as I walked that path on the Mall with Frank a few years back, I was embarrassed
that there wasn’t a place of honor for all the nation’s Doughboys, sailors, aviators and Marines of World War I.
We have memorials on the National Mall for three of the four great wars of the last century with tributes to Vietnam, Korea and World War II. But, there is a compelling silence and absence of a national World War I memorial for our last Doughboy to salute.
As we come to the end of this chapter in history, I hope we do the honorable thing. I hope that the final legacy of these American heroes is not forgotten and that we do not fail to honor those that have made it possible for us to live in freedom.
We have World War I memorials in other parts of the nation, but not a national memorial in Washington, D.C. We need a memorial in our nation’s capital to honor the mothers and the fathers of the greatest generation — a memorial for all who served in the Great World War.
Honoring Frank Buckles is our chance to say “thank you” to the last of a generation. It is the final legacy of those who fought “over there.” America did not treat those who served in World War I well upon their return. There were no benefits, no Veterans Affairs Administration, no GI bill. As
the last lines are written, let’s get it right “over here.”
The Doughboys should not be forgotten – the time is long past to build a memorial on the National Mall. And when the time comes and the bugles sound Taps for the lone survivor, Cpl. Frank Buckles of the United States Army should lie in honor in the United States Capitol. We must not let politics come before honor.
And that’s just the way it is.