Nearly everyone agrees that Frank Buckles, America's last surviving World War I veteran who died last month at age 110, should be honored.
Buckles' passing has been noted by leaders in his home state of West Virginia and nationally. He has been celebrated by veterans' groups, who hail him as the last link to the tens of thousands of dough boys killed in the Great War. A military funeral is planned at Arlington National Cemetery. President Obama ordered flags on federal buildings flown at half-staff on March 15, the day of the burial.
Before Buckles is laid to rest at Arlington, however, his family is holding out hope for one final tribute. They want Buckles' remains to lie in honor in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol, to allow government officials and the public to pay their final respects.
Buckles' daughter says she's seeking the rare recognition, not because her father was a hero (he was an Army ambulance driver who never saw combat), but because of the role he took on in the last years of his life as "representative of all the service members who served, fought, and died in the Great War."
In a weekend statement obtained by AOL News
, Susannah Buckles Flanagan said her father felt that it was his duty to stand up for his World War I comrades, "just as strongly as he felt the call to enlist and help fight that war."
It's up to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to grant the honor of allowing a body to lie in the rotunda, and so far they have denied it, without explanation. The New York Times
pointed out that the two congressional leaders are "perhaps mindful that the honor has been given to only 30 people" since 1852.
While lying in the Rotunda is usually reserved for high-ranking federal officials (among them Abraham Lincoln, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, J. Edgar Hoover, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan), there have been exceptions. In 2005, civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks was allowed to lie in honor, as were Capitol police officer Jacob Chestnut and detective John Gibson, who were killed in a shootout at the Capitol in 1998.
Former Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, who was seriously wounded in World War II, is among the growing number of current and former politicians calling on Congress to allow Buckles to lie in honor.
"It's the end of an era, so to speak," Dole, the former GOP presidential candidate, told National Journal
Tuesday. "It was a war that changed the world, in effect, and it should be recognized. I hope and I think it is going to happen."
Dole joins lawmakers from West Virginia in pushing for a Rotunda memorial. Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) said it would be a "fitting tribute." And Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, Buckles' Republican congresswoman in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, said the delay wasn't doing the late veteran justice, according to Fox News
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the issue should go to the full House for a vote this week, the National Journal said. No such vote has been scheduled.
Susannah Buckles Flanagan said her father's death marks the passing of a generation, one that should be marked in a public way, on the national stage that the Capitol Rotunda provides.
"The issue is how do we as Americans come together over this loss, by providing a befitting venue to do so? How do we demonstrate to our own people and people all over the world how the United States of America honors its citizens of distinction?" Buckles Flanagan asked in her statement. "If the last American soldier surviving is not suitable to serve as a symbol around which we can rally to honor those who served their country in the Great War, then who can serve that purpose? There is no one left."