Buckles honored at Zion Episcopal

March 16, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • A mourner walks toward the Zion Episcopal Church in Charles Town, W.Va., Wednesday afternoon to attend a memorial service for Frank Buckles. Buckles was America's last World War I veteran.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Editor's note: Reporter Richard F. Belisle's father, Frederick M. Belisle (1896-1981), served in the U.S. Navy in World War I.

It seemed to all make sense, to finally come together Wednesday afternoon when Charlie Casabona led nearly 300 people in Zion Episcopal Church in the singing of "Over There."

Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last American to serve in World War I, died Feb. 27 at age 110. If he was relatively unknown before then he wasn't after weeks of mass-media coverage detailed his experience in the "War to End All Wars," his three-year ordeal in a Japanese prison camp in World War II and his life as a farmer, raconteur and father.

There were the fights in Congress over whether Buckles' body should lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. They were followed by his burial Tuesday in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. President Obama and Vice President Biden paid their respects Tuesday at an Arlington chapel ceremony where Buckles' body lay in honor.

Casabona, a member of the O'Hurley's General Store Band, which provided some of the music at Wednesday's church service, sang the melody of Irving Berlin's ode to the doughboys heading to France in 1917 to fight Germans.

It was the stirring strains of the chorus sung with enthusiasm by the congregation:

"Over there, over there,

Send the word, send the word to beware,

That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming....," that a longtime Jefferson County resident had lived long enough to be remembered for having taken part in that now nearly forgotten struggle.

Frank Buckles, in the days since his death, has become a national icon.

Five members of the Blackfeet Warrior Society of Browning, Mont., who served as the honor guard at Arlington Tuesday, came to the church to pay their final respects to Buckles and his daughter, Susannah Buckles Flanagan.

Officiating at the service were the Right Rev. Michie Klusmeyer, Episcopal bishop of West Virginia, and the Rev. Melanie McCarley, pastor at Zion Episcopal. She also took part in Buckles' funeral service at Arlington.

McCarley, in her homily, asked the congregation to imagine what Buckles had witnessed in his extraordinary long life. He was born Feb. 1, 1901. Queen Victoria had just died, William McKinley was president, and it was the year of the first Memorial Day and first Nobel Peace Prize, she said.

"He was born at the beginning of a new century and a new era," she said.

He lived through the Post Modern Age, the Space Age and the Information Age, she said.

"Frank Buckles was a superb story teller, he was well-read and he was easy to talk to." McCarley said. "He spoke German, Spanish, French, and he learned a little Japanese."

Eulogies and personal remembrance were also given by Mike Flanagan, Buckles son-in-law; Ken Buckles, his nephew; Jay Hurley, leader of the band, and longtime friend Martha Anne McIntosh.

Buckles had a favorite answer when he was asked to what he attributed his long life.

"If you think you are dying, don't."

His favorite poem, Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar," was read at the service.

The first stanza reads:

"Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me,

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea."

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