CPL Frank Buckles

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Washington (CNN) — Frank Buckles, the last living U.S. World War I veteran, has died, a spokesman for his family said Sunday. He was 110.

Lawmakers Monday began to move ahead with proposed resolutions that would allow his casket to be displayed at the Capitol Rotunda, and plans were already in the works for his burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Buckles “died peacefully in his home of natural causes” early Sunday morning [27 Feb 2011], the family said in a statement sent to CNN late Sunday by spokesman David DeJonge.

Buckles marked his 110th birthday on February 1 [2011], but his family had earlier told CNN he had slowed considerably since last fall, according his daughter Susannah Buckles Flanagan, who lives at the family home near Charles Town, West Virginia.

Buckles, who served as a U.S. Army ambulance driver in Europe during what was then known as the “Great War,” rose to the rank of corporal before the war ended.

His assignments included that of an escort for German prisoners of war. Little did he know he would someday become a prisoner of war during World War II.

He came to prominence in recent years, in part because of the work of DeJonge, a Michigan portrait photographer who had undertaken a project to document the last surviving veterans of that war.

As the years continued, all but Buckles had passed away, leaving him the “last man standing” among U.S. troops who were called “The Doughboys.” His death leaves only two verified surviving WWI veterans in the world, both of whom are British.

President Obama issued a statement Monday on Buckles’ passing, saying he and first lady Michelle Obama were “inspired” by Buckles’ story.

Frank Buckles lived the American Century,” Obama’s statement said. “Like so many veterans, he returned home, continued his education, began a career, and along with his late wife Audrey, raised their daughter Susannah. … We join Susannah and all those who knew and loved her father in celebrating a remarkable life that reminds us of the true meaning of patriotism and our obligations to each other as Americans.”

Buckles told CNN in 2007 he accepted the responsibility of honoring those who had gone before him, and to be their voice for permanent, national recognition after he was gone.

DeJonge found himself the spokesman and advocate for Buckles in his mission to see to it that his comrades were honored with a monument on the National Mall, pushing for improvements to a neglected, obscure city memorial nearly in the shadow of the elaborate World War II memorial.

Buckles wanted national status granted to the D.C. War Memorial, a marble gazebo built in the 1930s that, for now, honors only his comrades from the District of Columbia. His call was to elevate the designation of the site to join U.S. honors accorded to those who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

“We have come to the end of a chapter in history,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, a House sponsor of legislation to upgrade the DC War Memorial. “Frank was the last American Doughboy — a national treasure,” Poe said in a statement provided to CNN.

The “Frank Buckles WWI Memorial Act” passed the House but had not cleared the Senate before Congress adjourned. Poe on Monday restated his support for a House resolution that would allow a public display for Buckles in the Capitol Rotunda. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia is a co-sponsor of the Senate proposal.

Buckles, at the age of 108, came to Capitol Hill from West Virginia in 2009 to testify before a Senate panel on behalf of the D.C. War Memorial bill. He sat alongside Rockefeller and fellow proponent Sens. John Thune, R-South Dakota, and Jim Webb, D-Virginia.

“I have to,” he told CNN when he came to Washington, as part of what he considered his responsibility to honor the memory of fellow veterans.

Rockefeller praised Buckles in a statement Monday, calling him “a unique American, a wonderfully plain-spoken man, and an icon for the World War I generation.”

“His life was full and varied and an inspiration for his unbridled patriotism and enthusiam for life,” the statement said.

Buckles, after World War I ended, took up a career as a ship’s officer on merchant vessels. He was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II and held prisoner of war for more than three years before he was freed by U.S. troops.

Never saying much about his POW experience, Buckles instead wanted attention drawn to the plight of the D.C. War Memorial. During a visit to the run-down, neglected site a few years ago, he went past the nearby World War II memorial without stopping, even as younger veterans stopped and saluted the old soldier in his wheelchair as he went by.

Renovations to the structure began last fall, but Buckles, with his health already failing, could not make a trip to Washington to review the improvements. The National Park Service is overseeing efforts that include replacing a neglected walkway and dressing up a deteriorated dome and marble columns.

Details for services and arrangements will be announced in the days ahead, the family statement said.

Flanagan, his daughter, said preliminary plans began weeks ago, with the Military District of Washington expressing its support for an honors burial at Arlington, including an escort platoon, a horse-drawn casket arrival, a band and a firing party.

“It has long been my father’s wish to be buried in Arlington, in the same cemetery that holds his beloved General (John) Pershing,” Flanagan wrote as she began to prepare for the inevitable in a letter she sent to home-state U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia.

“I feel confident that the right thing will come to pass,” she said.

Manchin issued a statement Monday that read, in part, “He lived a long and rich life as a true American patriot, and I hope that his family’s loss is lightened with the knowledge that he was loved and will be missed by so many.”

Buckles in 2008 attended Veterans Day ceremonies at the grave of Pershing, the commander of U.S. troops during World War I. He also met with then-President George W. Bush at the White House, and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon.

“The First World War is not well understood or remembered in the United States,” Gates said at the time. “There is no big memorial on the National Mall. Hollywood has not turned its gaze in this direction for decades. Yet few events have so markedly shaped the world we live in.”

Buckles’ family asks that donations be made to the National World War I Legacy Project to honor Frank Buckles and the 4,734,991 Americans with whom he served.

More than 116,000 Americans were killed, and more than 204,000 wounded, in the 19 months of U.S. involvement in the war, according to the Congressional Research Service. The overall death toll of the 1914-18 conflict was more than 16.5 million, including nearly 7 million civilians, and more than 20 million wounded.

Details can be found at: http://www.frankbuckles.org.

We honor you, Frank Buckles.

(#Repost @cnn.com)

CPL Albert Ellsworth Boothroyd

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Corporal Boothroyd was a member of Headquarters and Service Battery, 38th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division. He was taken Prisoner of War while defending the withdrawal of U.S. Army forces near Kunu-ri, North Korea against overwhelming Chinese forces on November 30, 1950. He died while a prisoner on January 31, 1951. His remains were not recovered.

We honor you, Albert Boothroyd.

(#Repost @Korean War Project)

CPT Humbert Roque “Rocky” Versace

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Many believe that Captain Rocky Versace epitomizes all that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point stands for and lived by the code of “Duty, Honor, Country.” Capt. Versace was a Special Forces officer who was executed by the Viet Cong while being held as a Prisoner of War.
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on July 2, 1937, Versace was the son of an Army Colonel, he grew up living on military bases and attending high school in both Alexandria and Norfolk, Virginia. He attended West Point from 1955 to 1959, and was commissioned in the Armor branch. After graduating from the Ranger School and completing Airborne training, he served in 1st Cavalry Division, which was operating in Korea. He then returned stateside to serve in the 3rd Infantry Division (Old Guard) in Washington, D.C. Under President John F. Kennedy’s administration, advisors were sent to Vietnam in the early ‘60s, and Capt. Versace volunteered for that duty. Prior to deployment, he attended Vietnamese language school and completed training at the Military Assistance Institute.

In May 1962, he began his tour as an advisor in Vietnam, serving with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). In May 1963, he extended his tour for another six months while making plans to get out of the Army and return to Vietnam to help the children. On Oct. 23, 1963, during his last month in service, his unit was attacked, and overrun.

Although he was wounded, Capt. Versace, along with 1Lt. Nick Rowe and Sgt. Daniel Pitzer continued to fight until they were taken prisoner by enemy forces. During their captivity, they were starved and exposed to extreme physical and psychological torture. Although wounded and weakened, Capt. Versace resisted captivity and lived by the Code of Conduct. He attempted escape four times and was seen by the other prisoners as continually resisting the captors, insulting them in their native Vietnamese and also in French. Over the course of t23 months he never broke, despite repeated torture and abuse. His physical appearance witnessed by his fellow prisoners showed that while his body was being broken, his spirit was not. He was finally separated from the other prisoners. The last they heard his voice he was singing “God Bless America”, giving inspiration to his fellow prisoners and displaying incredible courage in the face of unbearable torture. On Sept. 25, 1965 on “Liberation Radio” the North Vietnamese announced they had executed Capt. Versace.

Lt. Rowe, also a prisoner for five years, overpowered a guard and became the first American service member to escape captivity. Rowe later documented Capt. Versace’s story in the book Five Years to Freedom, and personally appealed to President Richard M. Nixon to award Capt. Versace with the Medal of Honor for his actions before and during captivity. President Nixon assured Maj. Rowe that he would seek the Medal of Honor for Capt. Versace. Lt. Rowe and Sgt. Pitzer founded the U.S. Army Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE, program at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, based on their own experiences and Captain Versace’s leadership and example before and during captivity.

Capt. Versace was nominated for the Medal of Honor in 1969, but the award was downgraded to the Silver Star Medal. In 2002, the “Friends of Rocky” were successful in getting Capt. Versace the award for valor above and beyond the call of duty. On July 8, 2002, President George W. Bush awarded Capt. Rocky Versace a posthumous Medal of Honor.

We honor you, Humbert “Rocky” Versace.

(Submission by: Miah Parry. #Repost Distinguished Members of the Special Forces)

CPT Jose Calugas Sr.

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Jose Calugas was a Philippine native as well as a World War II hero. Born in Leon, Iloilo, Philippines and left without a mother at the age of ten, he left high school to support his family. Calugas enlisted in the United States Army in 1930 and bean basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He then did additional training to become artilleryman and was later assigned to the 24th Artillery Regiment of the Philippine Scouts at Fort Stotsenburg, Pampanga before being moved to the 88th Field Artillery Regiment of the Philippine Scouts.

Calugas was the first Filipino to receive the Medal of Honor during WWII in 1945 and was presented the award by General George Marshall. Calugas voluntarily ran 1,000 yards to a newly bombed and shelled battery gun position to organize a volunteer squad and place the gun back into commission all while being shot at by Japanese artillery.  Because of his actions, Calugas earned his Medal of Honor as a Mess Sergeant with the 88th Field Artillery in the Philippine Scouts and was the only Filipino to do so.

We honor you, Jose Calugas Sr.

(#Submission by: Chambers Primary School Philippino Month Appreciation wall)

CPT Isaac Camacho

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The First American POW to escape captivity during the war in Vietnam.

Green Beret Army Capt. Isaac Camacho vividly recalled the terrible night when he was captured by Viet Cong. It was the night of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas. He was held for nearly two years until he fled, becoming the first U.S. prisoner to escape from Viet Cong captivity. That evening, Nov. 22, 1963, the Viet Cong forces started firing mortars into the Hiep Hoa U.S. Army Special Forces base camp, in South Vietnam, about 35 miles north of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). While half of his team was away, he said, Viet Cong fighters infiltrated the camp, silently killed guards and forced Vietnamese civilians to lay down their weapons — they only wanted to kill the Americans.

Several of the Special Forces troops manned a machine-gun position and began trying to stem the tide of invaders.

Camacho, who was the camp’s heavy weapons specialist, grabbed a carbine and made his way to the mor-tar bunker, where he waged a one-man mortar barrage against the enemy. He was still firing approximately 30 minutes later when he was joined by Lieutenant John R. Colby, the detachment’s executive officer, who was trying to rally the defending forces. In light of the attack’s intensity, and seeing that some of the CIDG troops were fleeing, Colby decided that further efforts to defend the camp would be futile. He handed Camacho a grenade to use for added protection and ordered him to leave while he could.

Camacho left reluctantly. He knew that a couple of Americans were still fighting inside the camp. Once outside the compound, he thought of his friends and could not bring himself to abandon them. He re-entered the enclosure and encountered heavier firepower and exploding mortar rounds. When he suddenly came face to face with some VC, he blasted at them with his carbine. The enemy fire was so overwhelming that he tossed his grenade at the VC and made a dash for cover in a machine-gun bunker. But the VC soon located him, as well as Sergeant George E. Smith, Specialist Claude McClure and Staff Sgt. Kenneth M. Rorback.

Apparently, I was seen, Camacho later recalled, because in the next 30 seconds, I was surrounded and flashlights were being shined on me. I was ordered to get up, and as I did a VC grabbed my carbine. He felt the barrel, which was hot, then he said something to the others in Vietnamese. While they were tying me up, one VC gave me a butt stroke with his M-1 and I was out. When I came to, I had blood all over from a gash on the back of my head. Then another order was given, and we were practically dragged across the barbed wire.

Although he survived the intense attack, Camacho and the three other men captured by the Viet Cong were beaten and blindfolded. They were transported like cargo to one of the guerrilla army’s bases. Camacho lived in shackles and was confined to cages, one of which was just six by eight feet, for much of the next 21 months.

The action (at the camp) earned him the Distinguished Service Cross. On July 9, 1964 His escape, spending four days evading pursuers in order to return to U.S. control, earned him the Silver Star.

We honor you, Isaac Camacho.

(Submission by: Miah Parry. #Repost @Special Forces Association Chapter LX)

CAPT John McCain

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When John McCain made his first bid for public office in 1982, running for a House seat in Arizona, critics blasted him as a carpetbagger, pointing out that he’d only lived in the state for 18 months.

“Listen, pal, I spent 22 years in the Navy,” the exasperated candidate reportedly shot back at one event. Then, after explaining that career military people tend to move a lot, he delivered a retort that made the attacks against him seem ridiculously petty: “As a matter of fact… the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.”

McCain won the election, launching a political career that earned him two terms in the House, six in the Senate, and his party’s presidential nomination in 2008. But even after four decades in public life, McCain’s experience as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam continued to define him in the minds of many Americans, admirers and detractors alike. While he ultimately made his name on the national political stage, the scion of two four-star admirals was, at his core, a lifelong military man. He followed into the family business, becoming a decorated, if at times reckless, fighter pilot who conducted nearly two dozen bombing runs in Vietnam before being shot down, captured and tortured.

In both his military and political careers, McCain earned a reputation for being feisty and combative. “A fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed,” he declared in his 2018 memoir The Restless Wave, written with his longtime collaborator Mark Salter, and published after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that took his life on August 25, 2018.

Below, a timeline of his military life [selected segments, see History.com for the full account]:

John Sidney McCain III is born on August 29 at a U.S. Navy base in the Panama Canal Zone. His father, John S. McCain, Jr., is a submarine officer who will later rise to the rank of admiral and become commander in chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific during much of the Vietnam War. His grandfather, John S. McCain, Sr., also an admiral, would come to command the Navy’s Fast Carrier Task Force in the Pacific during World War II. “They were my first heroes, and earning their respect has been the most lasting ambition of my life,” McCain would later write in a 1999 memoir, Faith of My Fathers.

John McCain enters the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1954 and graduates with the class of 1958. He’s the third generation in his family to attend the Academy; his father had been class of 1931; his grandfather, class of 1906.

By all accounts, especially his own, the young McCain is an indifferent and rambunctious student, prone to pranks and occasional disobedience to authority. He graduates fifth from the bottom of his class. “My four years here were not notable for individual academic achievement but, rather, for the impressive catalogue of demerits which I managed to accumulate,” he admitted to the graduating class of 1993 in a commencement speech.

After graduation, McCain goes on to flight school in Pensacola, Florida, and later Corpus Christi, Texas, to train as a pilot. “I enjoyed the off-duty life of a Navy flyer more than I enjoyed the actual flying,” he will remember. “I drove a Corvette, dated a lot, spent all my free hours at bars and beach parties, and generally misused my good health and youth.”

In late 1966, he joins a squadron of A-4E Skyhawk pilots that will deploy on the U.S.S. Forrestal, a carrier that soon heads to the Tonkin Gulf, off the coast of North Vietnam. They arrive at the peak of President Lyndon Johnson’s Operation Rolling Thunder campaign of massive sustained aerial bombardment.

On the morning of July 29, 1967, McCain has another brush with death. As he awaits his turn for takeoff from the USS Forrestal, for a bombing run over North Vietnam, another plane accidentally fires a missile. It strikes either his plane or the one next to him (accounts differ), igniting a raging fire on the ship’s deck. McCain manages to extricate himself from his plane, only to be hit in the legs and chest by hot shrapnel.

“All around me was mayhem,” he would recall years later. “Planes were burning. More bombs cooked off. Body parts, pieces of the ship, and scraps of planes were dropping onto the deck. Pilots strapped in their seats ejected into the firestorm. Men trapped by flames jumped overboard.” By the time it’s over, more than 130 crew members are dead.

Three months later, on October 26, McCain takes off on his 23rd bombing run over North Vietnam, reportedly on a mission to destroy Hanoi’s thermal power plant. Just as he releases his bombs over the target, a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, described as looking like “a flying telephone pole,” strikes his plane, ripping off its right wing. McCain ejects, breaking both arms and one knee, and parachutes into a shallow lake.

After briefly losing consciousness, he wakes up to find himself “being hauled ashore on two bamboo poles by a group of about 20 angry Vietnamese. A crowd of several hundred Vietnamese gathered around me as I lay dazed before them, shouting wildly at me, stripping my clothes off, spitting on me, kicking and striking me repeatedly…. Someone smashed a rifle butt into my shoulder, breaking it. Someone else stuck a bayonet in my ankle and groin.”

Soon, an army truck arrives, taking McCain as a prisoner of war. He will remain one for five and a half years.

McCain remains a prisoner until the U.S. and North Vietnam sign a peace accord in late January 1973, ending the conflict. He is released in March, along with 107 other POWs, and boards a U.S. transport plane headed to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.

After his return to the States, and while he’s still undergoing therapy for his injuries, McCain requests assignment to the National War College in Washington, D.C. “By the time my nine months at the War College ended, I had satisfied my curiosity about how Americans had entered and lost the Vietnam War,” he later wrote. “The experience did not cause me to conclude that the war was wrong, but it did help me understand how wrongly it had been fought and led.”

In late 1974, after he manages to pass the physical exam to qualify for flight status, he’s sent to Cecil Field, a naval air station in Jacksonville, Florida. A few months later, he’s promoted to commanding officer of a replacement air group, responsible for training carrier pilots.

McCain’s third and final assignment, however, may be the most influential in setting his future course. In 1977, he’s assigned to a liaison office in the United States Senate in Washington, where he serves as the Navy’s lobbyist and gets to see the workings of Congress from the inside. The job marked “my real entry into the world of politics and the beginning of my second career as a public servant,” he later recalls.

In 1981, McCain retires from the Navy with the rank of captain. His decorations include, among others, a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars and a Distinguished Flying Cross.

We honor you, John McCain.

(#Repost excerpts @History.com)