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Bush thanks WWI veteran for 'love for America'

  • Story Highlights
  • Bush called Frank Buckles "the last living doughboy from World War I"
  • The meeting is part of a series of events to honor the veterans of World War I
  • A photographic display honoring vets opened at the Pentagon on Thursday
  • Buckles lied about his age to join the U.S. Army at the age of 16
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From Paul Courson
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush met the last known surviving veteran of the first world war on Thursday, thanking the 107-year-old for his service and his "love for America."

World War I veteran Frank Buckles met with President Bush in the Oval Office on Thursday.

Bush called Frank Buckles "the last living doughboy from World War I" and said the centenarian still has a crisp memory.

"Mr. Buckles has a vivid recollection of historic times, and one way for me to honor the service of those who wear the uniform in the past and those who wear it today is to herald you, sir, and to thank you very much for your patriotism and your love for America," the president said, seated with Buckles in the Oval Office.

"We're glad you're here."

Buckles, who turned 107 last month, lied about his age to join the U.S. Army at the age of 16.

His meeting with the commander in chief is part of a series of events to honor the veterans of World War I, which includes the opening of a photographic display at the Pentagon on Thursday.

Buckles was the guest of honor at that ceremony, hosted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"We cherish the chance to say thank you in person to Cpl. Frank Buckles," Gates said, flanked by poster-sized framed portraits of the final few who passed away.

"Whoever views this display will, I am sure, feel a connection to Mr. Buckles and his comrades in arms," Gates said.

The portrait photographer whose work is featured in the display, David DeJonge, is among a small group of people who have spent recent years keeping track of "Great War" vets.

DeJonge wants a more elaborate memorial in Washington to honor the veterans.

For now, the only public site is an unpretentious gazebo near the Jefferson Memorial that was established by the city of Washington, D.C.

Buckles visited the site Thursday afternoon.

"I think it was a very nice idea," he said after he and an aide toured the structure.

But Buckles noticed that the memorial is not national but built primarily to honor veterans from the District of Columbia.

"I can read here that it was started to include the names of those who were local," Buckles said.

He was greeted at the site by two young Army Medical Corps candidates in training at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

"It's just an honor to see somebody that served so much before us, to be in the same shoes as him, like, a century later," said Reeme Sikka, 22.

During an interview with a television crew from the Veterans Affairs Administration, Buckles reeled off his military serial number and noted that he's still got his dog tags to remind him.

He served before there were Social Security numbers.

According to an autobiography the Pentagon released, Buckles was eager to join the war. He said his recruiter in the summer of 1917 told him that "the Ambulance Service was the quickest way to get to France," so he trained in trench casualty retrieval.

Buckles eventually was an officer's escort in France before joining a transport detail for German prisoners of war. He lives on his family's cattle farm near Charles Town, West Virginia. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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