ARLINGTON, Va. — He was a very old man, the last of his breed, and when he was laid to rest in the nation's most hallowed ground Tuesday, he represented every American who ever served his or her country in a uniform.
Frank Woodruff Buckles, America's last World War I veteran, died Feb. 27 at 110 years old. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery Tuesday with full military honors.
In attendance were high-ranking military officers, members of Congress, 118 members of the motorcycle group Patriot Guard Riders who rode to the cemetery in formation and a crowd of just plain folks numbering more than 200 who crowded around Buckles' coffin as the military conducted the service.
A horse-drawn caisson brought Buckles' flag-draped coffin to his burial plot on a hillside a few dozen yards from the grave of his hero, Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, who led American forces in France in World War I.
Earlier in the day, Buckles' body lay in honor in the chapel in Arlington's Memorial Amphitheater as hundreds paid their respects.
President Obama and Vice President Biden came to the chapel after it was closed to the public at 2 p.m. They spoke briefly to Buckles' daughter, Susannah Buckles Flanagan.
"It's a privilege to be here," said Mary Beets of Dallas after leaving the chapel a few hours earlier.
Beets' grandfather, Daniel Hart, who died in 1991, served in the Navy in World War I.
"He was proud of his service. He had a picture of himself and the crew of his ship," she said. "He brought home a German helmet.
"I'm glad that they are letting people see this," Beets said. "He (Buckles) was extremely honorable. He served his country."
"He was the symbol of World War I," said Mike Dougherty of Kearneysville, W.Va. He and his family were watching a video of the chapel ceremony in the cemetery's visitor center.
"He deserved this. I wish he could have gotten into the rotunda."
Dougherty was referring to efforts by U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito to have Buckles body lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. They failed to garner enough support for their resolution from members of both houses
Manchin said although they tried hard to get Buckles in the rotunda, the services at the hillside were a befitting honor for the last World War I veteran.
U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who was present Tuesday at the service, said that he, too, supported the rotunda resolution.
Lana Osbourn, a teacher from Abilene, Texas, led a group of 150 eighth-graders to the chapel to see Buckles' casket.
"They all got totally quiet when they went through, especially during the changing of the guard," Osbourn said. "They were very impressed, very respectful. They took it all in."
M.C. Connie Agresi, a member of VFW Post 3150, Arlington, stood in the crowd carrying a framed War Service Certificate given to his grandfather, Michael Corrando Agresi, for his service on the battleship USS New York in the World War I. It said he served "with the British Grand Fleet in the War Zone."
Ted Morgan of Martinsburg, W.Va., and Mark Kraham of Jefferson County, W.Va., were at the service.
"We were friends of Frank," Morgan said. "We've visited him often. I've known him 12 or 13 years."
"We'd talk for hours," Kraham said. "Frank was very bright."
Several men wore hats that said "Frank W. Buckles World War One." They were members of the American Veterans Tribute of Richmond, Va.
"Every year we honor one veteran. Two years ago, Buckles received the honor, including a flag that was made in his honor," member Ron Vassar said.
Bruce Running Crane was a member of the Blackfeet American Indian tribe that served as the honor guard in Buckles' funeral. An ex-Marine, Running Crane said he had five brothers in the Army, including Walter Running Crane who was awarded a Silver Star in the Vietnam War.
"We all met Frank Buckles at his house," Bruce Running Crane said. "We went there for an hour, and we were still there five hours later."
The funeral service was conducted by the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment, known as "The Old Guard."