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Last U.S. veteran of World War I testifies for memorial

From Paul Courson, CNN
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Oldest vet on WWI memorial
  • Frank Buckles, 108, is the last living U.S. veteran of WWI
  • Buckles urges lawmakers to make D.C. monument a national WWI memorial
  • Monument currently honors only D.C. veterans of the war
  • A competing proposal would put the national designation on memorial in Missouri

Washington (CNN) -- At 108 years old, Cpl. Frank Buckles said Thursday he hopes he lives to see the day when there's a memorial on the National Mall honoring all Americans who fought in World War I.

Buckles, the last surviving U.S. veteran of the war that ended in 1918, came to Capitol Hill in support of legislation to pay tribute to his comrades.

Lawmakers are considering whether to help fund a national rededication of an old city monument already on the Mall or to forgo such support in favor of a monument project under way in Kansas City, Missouri.

Last year, Buckles visited the District of Columbia's World War I Memorial. In his wheelchair and bundled against the cold, he slowly toured the overgrown site and noted the names engraved along the gazebo's marble walls are only of those who hailed from the District of Columbia.

He also saw the rundown condition of the 1930s monument and became determined to symbolically lead a drive to restore the structure and support making it a national memorial.

Lawmakers on Thursday, after noting the move to put a site in Kansas City, gave the old Army "doughboy" his chance to say why the nation's capital would be the better location.

"The memorial [on the Mall], it's an excellent idea!" he told lawmakers.

When he visited the District of Columbia memorial a year ago, Buckles said he did not expect to become the last man standing, the one left to represent Americans those who fought in World War I.

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

Buckles was brought to Capitol Hill for his testimony from his family's farm in West Virginia, and he met with senators and well-wishers before the hearing.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a Republican born in 1961, laughed when a reporter pointed out he is 60 years younger than Buckles, born in 1901. Thune is sponsoring the Senate bill that would make the Washington site the "official" World War I memorial.

Lawmakers will have to square that with a bill from Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who is pushing that designation for the Liberty Memorial at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City.