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Last surviving WWI veteran honored

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Sen. Robert Byrd, right, sits with fellow West Virginian Frank Woodruff Buckles, who fibbed about his age to join the Army in 1917.

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WASHINGTON - One survivor saluted another yesterday as Robert C. Byrd, the longest-serving senator in history, paid tribute to Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last living American-born veteran of World War I, at the Capitol.

For a change the 90-year-old Mr. Byrd wasn't the oldest guy in the room; Mr. Buckles is 107.

"I'm just a spring chicken!" Mr. Byrd exclaimed, gazing from his own wheelchair to Mr. Buckles, in his.

Much of Washington's community of veterans packed a small parlor off the Senate floor to honor Mr. Buckles and the upcoming 90th anniversary of the armistice between the Allied nations and Germany that ended the war.

They marveled at his story: Mr. Buckles got into the Army in 1917 after fibbing to a military recruiter about his age, and enlisted at the start of the U.S. involvement in "the war to end all wars." He served in the United States, Britain, Germany, and France. He never saw combat, and worked mainly as a driver and a warehouse clerk overseas. He rose to the rank of corporal and after Armistice Day he helped return prisoners of war to Germany.

Mr. Buckles later traveled around the globe working for a shipping company and was in the Philippines in 1940 when the Japanese invaded. He became a prisoner of war for almost three years.

He later settled on a cattle farm in Charles Town, W.Va., where he still lives, according to his daughter, Susannah Buckles Flanagan. Recently, the Pentagon agreed to allow him burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Yesterday the tour took him to Capitol Hill. Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, John Warner of Virginia, and former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas said they were there to honor Mr. Buckles but also their own fathers, who they said served in the same conflict.

"I feel honored to represent the veterans of World War I," Mr. Buckles said. He took a sip of champagne when a toast was offered.

But it was Mr. Byrd's tribute to his fellow West Virginian that stole the event: "Here is a true American hero," Mr. Byrd said. "Frank Buckles is my role model. How about that!"

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