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WWI veteran enjoys tribute concert

December 21, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

WILLIAMSPORT -- Last-known surviving American World War I veteran Frank Woodruff Buckles has been honored numerous times locally and in other parts of the country for his unique stature but kudos for the Jefferson County, W.Va., resident came with a holiday twist Sunday afternoon.

Spectators packed the auditorium at Williamsport High School to hear a special arrangement of World War I marching songs dedicated to Buckles.

"Mr. Buckles is the last man standing from World War I," Nelson Deal, narrator of the show, told the crowd. "Mr. Buckles, this is for you."

Buckles, dressed in a black suit, white shirt and red tie, sat in the front row. The 107-year-old clapped softly at times during the performance.

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The Williamsport Community Band performed "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," "K-K-K-Katy" and "Over There."

"It's a Long Way to Tipperary" and "Over There" were popular songs during World War I and "K-K-K-Katy" was a song about a young soldier who stuttered when he talked to girls.

Holiday selections were mixed into the performance, including selections from "The Polar Express" and Christmas carols sung by soloist Colleen Mastrangelo-Clark.

Buckles was in a wheelchair and his daughter, Susannah Flanagan, sat next to him, whispering to him during the show.

Buckles received several standing ovations and Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, honored Buckles and relayed honors from other Maryland elected officials, including Speaker of the House Michael E. Busch; Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington; Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington; U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; and U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

A representative of Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown gave Buckles a governor's citation and Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf II, dressed in a tuxedo, issued Buckles a proclamation from the town.

When asked later if Buckles wanted to make a comment, he was handed the microphone and said: "I'm impressed with this concert. This is my Christmas. Thank you."

His comments drew a chorus of "oohhhhs" from the crowd.

"Papa does a nice job," Flanagan said.

The performance also included a reading of "The Night Before Christmas" poem, narrated by John Lease.

Children were invited up for the story, which was sprinkled with notes from the band, and Buckles was wheeled over to be with them.

After the show, spectators were invited outside the auditorium for a reception.

Among those attending were Don and Darylene Blickenstaff, who live in the Cearfoss area.

The couple said they have a grandson who plays in the band, but Buckles' appearance made Sunday's performance extra special.

"It was great," Don Blickenstaff said.

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