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Frank Buckles speaks with a student from Houston's Creekwood Middle School on his front porch on Saturday, March 7, 2009.

Congressman addresses House on WWI Memorial

March 27, 2009 - Representative Ted Poe, R-Texas, delivered a speech on the floor of the House of Representative on Tuesday to advocate for passage of the Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act.

POE introduced the bill (H.R. 482) on January 13, 2009 to expand the District of Columbia War Memorial as a National and District of Columbia War Memorial to honor all veterans who fought in World War I. Built on the National Mall in the 1930s to honor veterans from Washington D.C. who fought in World War I, it has fallen into disrepair and is not well known.

Frank Buckles, 108, is the lone surviving veteran from World War I. He lives on his family farm in West Virginia and will be attending this year’s Memorial Day Parade in Washington. Teachers and students from Creekwood School in Houston participated in a service learning project this year and raised almost $14,000 to begin the restoration. On March 7, a group of them delivered a check to Mr. Buckles so the project is underway.

Through Poe's speech to the House, he delivered a valuable history lesson and advocated for Congress to formally authorize the rededication and restoration of the memorial. The following is excerpted from his speech:

"Mr. Speaker, in 1918, the war to end all wars was over. It was called World War I. It started in 1914, ended in 1918. And during that time, it was a stalemate until 1917 when the United States entered the war. The United States went overseas to Europe. Those doughboys fought in a land they did not know and for a people they did not know. They broke the trench warfare stalemate, and on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour of 1918, that Great War was over.

"Fifteen million people in the world died because of World War I. And the casualties for the United States? Well, 4,734,991 Doughboys and Marines went over there to fight in that Great War; 116,561 were killed representing and defending our country. They fought in the woods, in the forests of Belleau Wood, the Argonne, and the fields of Flanders. Many of them are still buried in those forests in graves known only to God. When they came home, thousands more had contracted the Spanish flu, and they died here in the United States.

"Why Frank Buckles? Because you see, Mr. Speaker, Frank Buckles is the lone American survivor from World War I. He's 108 years old. In World War I, he lied to get into the Army: he was probably 16; he should have been 18. But he went off to war in Europe and drove an ambulance and rescued other doughboys that had been wounded in France. After the war was over, he came back to America. And during World War II, he was captured in the Philippines by the Japanese and held as a prisoner of war for 3 years. And now he lives in West Virginia.

"Mr. Speaker, it is imperative that we as a Nation honor all that fought in the four great wars in the last century. And it is a shame we haven't built a memorial to them. But I can tell you something, Mr. Speaker. America's school kids will not be denied because they are the grassroots campaign to build that memorial, and they are raising funds to do it.

"Mr. Speaker, there is nothing more powerful than American school kids that have made up their minds, and they have made up their minds that America shall honor the war dead of World War I, the Frank Buckles and all of those four million-plus that served with him. And we're going to build this memorial whether the Federal bureaucrats like it or not.

"And that's just the way it is," Poe said.