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My duty is to represent WWI comrades, last doughboy says

  • Story Highlights
  • Frank Buckles, 107, is the last living U.S. veteran of WWI
  • Buckles was present for first Veterans Day in 1918 when it was Armistice Day
  • Buckles said it was his duty to represent soldiers since he is last WWI vet
  • There is no national memorial in Washington for WWI veterans
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From Paul Courson
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Frank Buckles considered it his duty to represent his fellow soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day.

Buckles was greeted with applause and a standing ovation when he arrived at Arlington National Cemetery.

Frank Buckles, 107 and the last living U.S. WWI veteran, said it was his duty to represent his fallen soldiers.

"I have to," he told CNN, "because I'm the last living member of Americans" who fought in what was called The Great War.

Buckles, 107, who is the sole living U.S. World War I veteran, attended ceremonies Tuesday at the grave of Gen. John Pershing, the top U.S. commander in that war.

He was present for the first Veterans Day in 1918 -- though it was originally called Armistice Day -- that marked the end of WWI.

Buckles was warmly greeted with standing applause by those in uniform and others who had gathered for the commemoration, but he said he did not think the fuss was about him.

"I can see what they're honoring, the veterans of World War I."

"Time has passed very quickly to me," he said after a wreath-laying. "I've had a lot of activity in the last 90 years." Video Watch interview with Frank Buckles »

According to an autobiography released this year by the Pentagon, Buckles was eager to join the war. Although only 16 in the summer of 1917, he lied about his age to get into the armed services.

He said his recruiter told him "the Ambulance Service was the quickest way to get to France," so he took training in trench casualty retrieval.

Buckles was an officer's escort in France before joining a detail transporting German prisoners of war.

A few decades later, Buckles was in the Philippines as a civilian, on the day in December 1941 that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. He was taken as a prisoner of war in Manila and held for 39 months.

Today Buckles is the symbolic leader of a drive to improve a run-down city-owned memorial on the National Mall for those lost in the World War I. The gazebo-styled structure was built in the 1930s.

There is no national memorial in the nation's capital for the troops known as "doughboys" who served in the war that ended 90 years ago.

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Legislation in Congress would provide federal funding to restore and enhance the city's memorial.

A $182 million World War II memorial was dedicated on the National Mall in 2004.

All About Veterans' AffairsWorld War IArlington National Cemetery

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