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Campaign launched to raise money for Buckles statue and documentary

February 26, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • David DeJonge, a market strategist and filmmaker from Grand Rapids, Mich., and Gregory Marra, a Pennsylvania sculptor, are pictured Friday during a press conference. They are standing near a model of a statue of Frank W. Buckles of Charles Town, America's last surviving World War I veteran.
By Richard F. Belisle, Staff Photographer

CHARLESTOWN, W.Va. — A planned statue of Frank W. Buckles of Charles Town, America's last surviving World War I veteran, could stand in Charles Town, in Buckles' hometown in Missouri or in France, where he served.

 Where it ends up depends on who first comes up with the $375,000 it will cost to make, said Gregory Marra, the Pennsylvania sculptor who wants to make the statue.

 Marra and David DeJonge, a market strategist and filmmaker from Grand Rapids, Mich., who is working on a documentary on Buckles' life, hosted a news conference Friday at the Holiday Inn to launch a campaign to raise money for the statue and documentary.

 Buckles, who turned 110 years old earlier this month, was not present. He owns Gap View Farm off old W.Va. 9.

 DeJonge, who claims to be Buckles' official spokesman, said Buckles is honorary chairman of the newly created National World War One Legacy Project. It's official launching was part of Friday's press conference.

  A model of Marra's design depicts Buckles holding the reins of Gen. "Black Jack" Pershing's horse.

 "A single figure without a horse is just another statue," Marra said.

 While the original casting of the statue will cost $375,000, Marra said subsequent editions would run around $125,000, since the mold can be reused.

 Members of the Charles Town American Legion post who were present at the news conference were asked to rally their statewide members to support the statue campaign.

"It's going to be a national treasure," Marra said. "West Virginia needs to pony up if the first statue is going to be in West Virginia."   

 DeJonge said the statue and documentary will be representative of Buckles' life. Funds from the sale of duplicates of both will pay for a traveling educational project on the effects of World War I.

 Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith told Marra and DeJonge that the statue, if made, should stand in the city's Jefferson Memorial Park.

"It would tie in beautifully with Charles Town's 225th anniversary celebration in September," she said. "I admire what you're both doing for all the veterans and Frank."

 Buckles was born in 1901 and enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 16. He was sent overseas and served as an ambulance driver during the war.

Later, in World War II, he was a civilian working in the Philippines when he was captured by the Japanese and spent 39 months as a prisoner of war.

 He moved to his farm in Jefferson County after the war.

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