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Honor Buckles and all WW I veterans

March 3, 2011

More than 4.7 million Americans served in uniform during World War I. Now, they are all gone. The last, Frank Buckles, died this week at 110 years of age.

During his final years, Buckles embarked on a personal crusade on behalf of his fallen comrades in arms. He wanted Congress to spend a few dollars to establish a national memorial to those who served in the Great War.

That has not yet been accomplished.

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Think about this: This United States declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917. By Nov. 11, 1918, the war was over. This nation mobilized more than 4.7 million service men and women, along with a war economy, and became the decisive force that won the "War to End Wars" - all in about 20 months.

Yet our Congress has not acted to establish a World War I memorial since Buckles suggested it in 2009.

Quite frankly, there is something wrong with a government unwilling - and that, we think, is the appropriate word - to honor the veterans of a major war while even one of them remained alive.

Buckles remembered those with whom he served as a generation eager to serve their country - of men and boys who rushed to recruiting stations, sometimes, like him, lying about their ages in order to don the uniform. They wasted no time in answering their nation's call, or in laying down their lives for it.

Yet, again, Congress has not bestirred itself to honor them.

According to Buckles' daughter, Susannah Flanagan, he was preoccupied with the memorial project during his last months. Sometimes, he asked daily about whether any action had been taken.

He must have been terribly disappointed to know nothing substantive had been accomplished.

Our government wastes more money in a few minutes than Buckles wanted to establish a World War I memorial. Our Congress manages to deal with hundreds of individual items of legislation during some weeks. But apparently there was no time and no money to deal with the entirely appropriate request of an old soldier, on behalf of more than 4.7 million of his comrades in arms who passed before him.

Yes, there is something wrong with that.

Our mistake can never be corrected - but Congress can still do the right thing. The World War I memorial proposal should be fast-tracked to a vote in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives this week. Otherwise, the many tributes to Buckles we expect to hear will be hollow and, yes, hypocritical.



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