America's last World War I vet, Frank Buckles, has died. He was 110. Over a decade ago, his nephew, Ken Buckles, started something called Living History Day at Milwaukie High School (Milwaukie, Oregon--yes, that's how we spell it here) as a way for vets to tell their stories and as a way for high school students to meet and learn the history of the vanishing heroes all around us. Ken's high school group raised more money for the WWII Memorial than any other school group in the country--by far.
I was at Living History Day in November 2007 when Frank, then 106, took his place on the stage at the USO-style celebration that ended the day's events. He was still a sharp and admirable man. Just a week ago yesterday, nephew Ken was at the annual dinner for the Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial Fund and brought us the latest news of Frank who was still "with it" according to Ken. Through Ken's tireless efforts, Frank Buckles' body will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda and be esorted by one of the longest honor guard processions ever amassed to his temporary resting place in Arlington National Cemetery. Temporary, that is, in light of 1 Corintians 15:42-49:
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is rased a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being"; the last Adam became a life giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will aslo bear the image of the man of heaven.
On the 19th after Ken had finished bringing us the news of Frank and what the nation's tribute to this venerable and timeless hero would be like, I asked Ken if any of us would still be alive when that day came. It wasn't any impertinent question then. It isn't one today. Are we alive in the freedom and the life we have been given by our Creator, by the work of Christ, by our founding fathers and mothers, by the once-young Americans who would not take "no" for an answer in order to serve?
My half-staff flag will go out today when the weeping skies dry out enough to allow it. I'll continue until Frank's body reaches Arlington.
And while I have lunch today I'll crank up the volume when I play that Crosby/Stills/Nash & Young song "Almost Cut My Hair". It's that one line in the song that always gets me: I feel like I owe it to someone. Yep.
Pray for peace. Work for peace. Be at peace. Thank you, Frank, and all others already gone home.