Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Rotunda Discussion

Frank Buckles died this week.  He was not really a legendary sort of guy until the last year or two....when it became obvious that he'd be the last GI left from World War I to die.  As time quickly passed....Frank was interviewed and gave various impressions from this era of 1917.

An episode has brewed up this week as some West Virginia congressmen and his daughter....have pressed to  have Frank lie in state in the US capital rotunda.  Being the last GI....in their sense.....ought to earn the right.

The leadership of the House and Senate (both Reid and Boehner) have quietly said no.  To lie in state at the US capital rotunda is a pretty rare event.  Normally, it's reserved for Presidents, Congressmen, and Senators. I went and did some research on this, and it's an impressive list:

Henry Clay, long-serving Senator and Representative, Secretary of State and Speaker of the House
President Abraham Lincoln
Thaddeus Stevens, Representative from Pennsylvania
Charles Sumner, Senator from Massachusetts
Vice President Henry Wilson, served under Grant, died in office
President James Garfield, assassinated while in office
John A. Logan, Senator from Illinois
President William McKinley, assassinated while in office
Pierre L'Enfant, officially dead in 1825, but he was moved and allowed to be in Arlington National Cemetery around seventy-five years later
Admiral George Dewey, Admiral of the Navy
The Unknown Soldier for World War I
President Warren Harding, died in office
President William Howard Taft
John J. Pershing, General of the Armies of the United States
Robert Taft, U.S. Senator and Majority Leader
The Unknown Soldiers for World War II and the Korean War
President John F. Kennedy, assassinated while in office
General Douglas MacArthur, General of the Army
President Herbert Hoover, President 1929–33
President Dwight Eisenhower
Everett Dirksen, Illinois Senator, Senate Minority Leader 1959–1969
J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director 1929–1972
President Lyndon B. Johnson, President 1963–1969
Hubert Humphrey, Vice President 1965–1969, Minnesota Senator
The Unknown Soldier for the Vietnam War (later identified as 1st. Lt. Michael J. Blassie)
Claude Pepper, long Serving Senator and Representative
President Ronald Reagan
President Gerald Ford

It's a curious thing, because I kept digging into the history of the Rotunda.  They (Congress and the Senate) did want Sargent Alvin York of World War I fame to be in the rotunda when he died.  The curious thing is that his wife said absolutely no.  She wanted him to be left alone, and buried in the hills of Tennessee where he grew up.

Then the folks at the Nashville capital building came....and they wanted Sargent York to be on display there, and she said no again.  Alvin is buried in Pall Mall, Tennessee.  His grave?  It is simple and to the point.  I doubt if Alvin ever wanted much more than that.  He probably would have had a laugh or two...if he'd known a bunch of political folks wanted his body run to to Washington to be put on display at the rotunda.

For Frank Buckles relatives.....it's an honor that they think he is deserving.  I don't typically argue points like this.  I went over and viewed Frank's history.  It's a funny thing....he entered the war at the very end (at least he enlisted as such).  They had shipped him off to England but he arrived there at the very tail-end of the war.....and never stepped foot on any battlefield on the European continent.

If you signed up and agreed on Frank being in the rotunda....some folks would come out and make the comment that he might be the last solder from World War I, but he never stepped beyond British soil....to the battlefields in France, Belgium and Germany.  Maybe in some way he represents a great moment in American history....but we tend to ask too many questions these days.  We would find a dozen reasons to disqualify him because we simply wanted to qualify the "truth".

If you did allow him to be that last GI....and in the rotunda, then you'd have to repeat this with the last World War II member, the last Korean War member, the last Vietnam War member, the last Gulf War member, the last Balkins War member, the last Afghanistan War member, etc.  You open up this big bucket of worms.  You can imagine some Private Joe who is the last survivor of the Vietnam War but he never got past US soil....as the war ended.  Do you count Private Joe or the guy who died six months ago who at least spent six days on Vietnam soil before he left?  This is the bucket of worms that you don't want to mess with.

I'd like to see Frank get a 5-star moment at Arlington Cemetery.  To be honest, a number of us from the Pentagon would likely take two hours from our job and attend his ceremony there.  There might be five to eight thousand folks lined up to show the man honor where he deserved it....amongst comrades.