Get World War I Bill Over the Top

Memorial Day is a time for us to reflect on our fellow Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us, dying in military service so that we may remain free. Their courage, patriotism and spirit of self-sacrifice are the primary reasons why we have never had to fear our enemies would prevail.

But their efficiency has been a factor, too. When something needs done, even something very dangerous and very difficult, our armed forces find a way to accomplish it.

Congress is another matter entirely.

On Feb. 1, 2011, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., introduced a bill “to establish a commission to ensure a suitable observance of the centennial of World War I, and to designate memorials to the service of men and women of the United States in World War I.” The measure has eight co-sponsors. Four are Democrats, three are Republicans and one is an independent.

With bipartisan support, a laudable goal and a comparatively small price tag, quick passage of the bill was a foregone conclusion, right? Wrong.

Rockefeller’s bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and there it has stayed. No action on the measure has been reported since it was sent to the committee nearly 16 months ago.

Had our armed forces taken that long to get doughboys to France after the United States declared war in 1917, it is entirely possible Germany would have won World War I. As it was, our involvement broke the Central Powers’ back and resulted in a relatively quick end to the war.

More than 4 million Americans served in the armed forces during World War I. They are all gone now.

But one, West Virginian Frank Buckles, continued to fight his comrades’ battle long after most of them had died.

From his farm near Charles Town, the last doughboy sought only appropriate recognition for fellow Americans who served in the Great War. He wanted a memorial to them in Washington, D.C. Monuments to veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War already stand on the National Mall in Washington.

A wonderful tribute to those who served in the “war to end wars,” the National World War I Museum, exists in Kansas City, Mo. But Buckles worried visitors to our nation’s capital would see no national memorial there.

It was Buckles’ persuasiveness and dedication that prompted Rockefeller to write his bill. A national memorial in Washington need not be overly expensive, the old gentleman explained. A memorial to the 499 District of Columbia residents who died in the war was dedicated in 1931. It could be improved to become a monument to all Americans who served during the war.

That is part of the goal of his bill, Rockefeller told his fellow senators in introducing the measure. He also believes there should be a plan for a national observance of the centennial of World War I.

No doubt Buckles was excited to be informed of Rockefeller’s bill. It may have seemed to him to be success in a struggle he had waged for decades.

Less than a month after the bill was handed over to the Senate, Buckles passed away on Feb. 27, 2011. He was 110 years old – the last American veteran of World War I.

On March 3, 2011, the Senate adopted unanimously a resolution sponsored by Rockefeller and co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin, also D-W.Va. It was “a mark of respect to the memory of Frank W. Buckles …”

But that was, in effect, just a piece of paper. A real mark of respect for Buckles and the 4.7 million other Americans who served in the military during World War I would be for the Senate and the House of Representatives, which has a similar bill, to enact the measure. At least the House has done something, in the form of a subcommittee hearing on the proposal earlier this year.

During World War I, millions of Americans didn’t hestitate to enlist to go “over there.” Is this what they were fighting for? A government that can’t seem to bestir itself to do the right thing for them?

Myer can be reached via e-mail at