WASHINGTON -- A Michigan filmmaker and the daughter of Frank Buckles, who was the last surviving American veteran of World War I, fired the latest salvo Friday in their battle to turn a monument to fallen District of Columbia troops into a national memorial: They released a 12-minute video pushing the project.
"Frank Buckles' cause has been taken up by the 'new lobbyist' of the 21st century -- the powerful combination of film, social media and a small board of directors," said David DeJonge, a Grand Rapids, Mich., documentary maker, in a statement. Dejonge has teamed with Susannah Buckles Flanagan to fulfill what they say were the wishes of her father when he died last year at age 110.
The video posted on the website of DeJonge's group, the National WWI Memorial Foundation, is part of a larger documentary planned on Buckles called "Pershing's Last Patriot." The current segment is titled "938" after a stalled House bill that would designate the D.C. War Memorial as the "District of Columbia and National World War I Memorial."
The film clip seeks to gloss over heavy opposition from District residents and elected officials to adding other elements around the memorial, which lists the names of 499 local service members who died in the war and were among more than 26,000 D.C. residents to serve. It recounts Buckles' visit to the once dilapidated monument and his wish to see it restored and dedicated to all veterans who served in what was once known as the Great War.
It also notes Buckles' testimony at a Senate hearing in 2009. The 108-year-old was wheeled into the hearing room by his daughter. He seemed confused.
"What am I supposed to say?" the frail veteran mumbled into the microphone. After prompting from Flanagan, he said, "Oh, it is an excellent idea" to rededicate the D.C. monument as a national memorial.
That hearing before a Senate subcommittee on national parks focused needed attention on the crumbling monument. It reopened last Veterans Day after a $3.6 million restoration spurred not only by DeJonge, Flanagan and a handful of their allies but also by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and the Trust for the National Mall.
The new video suggests that city officials feigned earlier support for converting the District memorial into a national monument, only to change their minds after the restoration was complete. But Norton, contacted by The Huffington Post, angrily rejected the idea that her constituents -- who, as the video notes, died for a country that then and now denies them a vote in Congress -- ever intended to give up their monument.
"This can't happen," she said of the effort to co-opt D.C.'s war memorial. "The people in the District of Columbia are adamant that it not happen."
Norton said she continues to work on having Pershing Park, a "gracious and beautiful memorial" near the White House, dedicated to the 4.7 million Americans who served under Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing in World War I.
Although Pershing Park sits directly across from the White House Visitor Center on busy Pennsylvania Avenue, Flanagan has complained that it isn't on the National Mall, as is the D.C. War Memorial. DeJonge's video contends that a site anywhere less prestigious less than Washington's monumental core, site of memorials to World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, won't do. Buckles himself is buried within sight of Pershing's grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
But Norton spends much of her time as a non-voting member of the House trying to stop out-of-towners in Congress and elsewhere from trampling on the wishes of District residents in everything from abortion funding to gun control. She said she has no intention of letting a self-described "small group of committed patriotic professionals from West Michigan" trample over the District's war dead. She noted that the National Park Service, which administers the memorial site, has also come out against the effort.
"This is not moving," Norton said of the memorial legislation sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and 46 others. "The city has come together and unified to strongly oppose any attempt to confiscate a memorial paid for by the residents of the District of Columbia. Schoolchildren collected 5 cents each, and somehow we're going to make it into a national memorial? ... We are not going to allow them to take away our memorial."