The last doughboy, Frank Buckles, spent his final years enjoying his West Virginia farm and battling valiantly to do something important for the comrades who passed on before him. Now it appears his modest dream is about to be crushed.
Buckles was the last of about 4.7 million Americans who served in the military during World War I. He died last year at 110 years of age. The very last veteran of the Great War from any country, an English woman, died in February.
During his last years at his farm near Charles Town, Buckles fought his last battle. He believed those with whom he went "over there" deserved a monument in Washington, D.C. Although a memorial to veterans of the District of Columbia exists, the nation's capital has no monument honoring all Americans who served in what they and many others hoped would be the war to end wars.
Veterans of other major conflicts are honored with monuments in Washington. Buckles was right to wonder why those with whom he served were not recognized in a similar manner. There is a National World War I Museum and accompanying Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. But again, there is nothing in our nation's capital to memorialize the generation that made the United States a major player on the world stage - at the cost of 116,516 Americans, among millions of others worldwide.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has introduced two bills to fulfill Buckles' wish - and to do the right thing. But recently, a bill fast-tracked through the Senate by Missouri's two senators threatened to shelve the Buckles Bill, as it had been named. The new measure would provide only for creation of a centennial commission to determine how to commemorate World War I (1914-18). It would not provide for the memorial Buckles sought.
Indeed there ought to be a centennial observance.
But there also should be a memorial to all the nation's World War I veterans in Washington.
The cost of such a monument would be comparatively small, so money is not the problem. What is?
We simply don't know. Neither did the last doughboy. He thought - naively, it now appears - that Americans could at least put politics aside to honor its World War I veterans.
Was he wrong?