Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
They called it the "war to end all wars." During World War I, 4.7 million Americans crossed the Atlantic to fight for freedom in Europe, and 116,000 of them never came home. They called them "doughboys" because of the color of their uniform and one such person was an individual by the name of Frank Buckles – the last American doughboy. All of those that went over there in WWI have died, except Frank Buckles.
This year, my friend, Frank Buckles turned 109 years young. He is an amazing man and amazing patriot. I met Frank a few years ago when he came to Washington, DC, to be my personal guest at a very important event – a call on our national Mall for a national WWI Memorial to be built to honor all of our country’s doughboys.
Frank joined me as I announced a bill I introduced, the Frank Buckles WWI Memorial Act, to restore the local DC memorial and expand it to recognize the service and sacrifice of all the men and women that served in the Great World War. One thing about Frank, he still has the fight left in him – don’t let his age fool you. He is determined to see this memorial happen.
Fortunately, he is not alone. He has his own contingency of doughboys (and doughgirls) right here in Kingwood, Texas. In a project started last year, Creekwood Middle School teacher Jan York and students have raised over $13,000. Their slogan was ``bucks for Buckles, dough for the doughboys'' to privately raise funds for this memorial.
People are shocked to learn that there is not a national WWI Memorial on our national Mall. Even more shocking is to see the local memorial to Washington, DC veterans tucked away, off the beaten path, without signage and overgrown by weeds in ruins. It’s disgraceful.
As our country prepares to remember those brave men and women that gave their lives for freedom, I ask that we also honor those that served and are continuing to serve our country, in all wars and conflicts. I often talk about those of our Greatest Generation, but without the fathers from Great World War, the doughboys, the Frank Buckles – the rest wouldn’t be possible.
On this Memorial Day, I want to share the words of my friend Frank from a letter that he wrote last year:
(The following is an excerpt from a letter from Frank Buckles to the American Veterans Center and National Memorial Day Parade on Memorial Day, 2009.)
DEAR AMERICANS: Though I am unable to be in our great nation's capitol today to pay honor to the many men and women who have fought and died protecting our freedom, I want you to know the depth of my gratitude to our service members and the deep personal significance Memorial Day has to me.
In 1918, I was sure there would never be another world war. But just 23 years later, the day after Pearl Harbor, I became one of 2,000 civilians who would spend the next 3 and a half years in a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines.
I was born in 1901 during the McKinley administration in the heartland of America. I was thirteen when World War I broke out in Europe. For me the decision to join the service was an easy one. The hard part was finding someone who'd let me join.
I was just 16 and didn't look a day older. I confess to you that I lied to more than one recruiter. I gave them my solemn word that I was 18, but I'd left my birth certificate back home in the family Bible. They'd take one look at me and laugh and tell me to home before my mother noticed I was gone.
Somehow I got the idea that telling an even bigger whopper was the way to go. So I told the next recruiter that I was 21 and darned if he didn't sign me up on the spot! I enlisted in the Army on the 14th of August 1917. As a 16-year-old boy, you think you're invincible and I wanted to go where the action was.
One of the older sergeants told me the fastest way to get to France was to go into the Ambulance Corps. So that's what I did. There was never a shortage of blown-up bodies that needed to be rushed to the nearest medical care. The British and French troops were in bad shape – even guys about my age looked old and tired.
After three years of living and dying inside a dirt trench, you know the Brits and French were happy to see us "doughboys." Every last one of us Yanks believed we'd wrap this thing up in a month or two and head back home before harvest. In other words, we were the typical, cocky Americans no one wants around, until they need help winning a war.
But that's what makes America special. As much as we want to avoid war, we're ready to sacrifice everything if that's what it takes to make sure the bad guys don't win. America's entry into the war was decisive. Just 19 months after the first Yanks arrived, the guns fell silent.
America goes to war to free, to liberate, to protect, and to bring justice to bear. I hope this Memorial Day, you take the time to thank the veterans you meet for their service to this country – the sacrifices that they have made to preserve your freedom.
To make sure we remember those Doughboys, we need to build a suitable WWI Memorial on the Washington Mall by 2018 – the 100th Anniversary of the entrance of America into the Great World War.
And that's just the way it is.