Obama Visits as Last World War I Veteran Buried at Arlington National Cemetery

Frank Buckles, the last American veteran of World War I, buried today.

March 15, 2011 -- President Obama traveled across the Potomac to pay his respects to Frank Buckles, the last American veteran of World War I, who was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery today. Buckles died at the age of 110 at his home in Charlestown, W. Va. in February.

The unexpected visit by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden was kept secret until they arrived at the cemetery.

The president and vice president met with the Buckles family in the ampitheater where Buckles' casket rested today.

The president and vice president did not attend the burial service, which was open to the public.

A crowd of nearly 200 family, friends and mourners gathered at Buckles' gravesite for the burial service.

Buckles was taken in a caisson from the ampitheater to his burial site near the grave of Gen. John Pershing, who led the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. His casket was carried up a hill by horses to his final resting place.

Buckles' daughter was presented with the flag that draped her father's casket.

A rifle team performed a three-volley salute. A lone bugler played taps, and a military band closed the ceremony with "America the Beautiful." Soldiers from the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment, the "Old Guard" -- the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army -- conducted the military honors.

Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, of West Virginia, where Buckles lived, attended the burial service along with Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Manchin, who served as governor of West Virginia when he befriended Buckles, said Buckles would have been "so pleased" with today's service. Flags were flown at half-staff on Capitol Hill today in honor of Buckles.

Richard Hawkins, a member of the Winchester, Va. chapter of Rolling Thunder, a group that honors veterans, attended the service. He said he came to pay tribute to a man who served his country and would share his experiences in the military

"We'll really miss him," Hawkins said. "He could still tell stories. We'd go over to his house, and he'd tell us things like it happened this morning. He remembered."

Before burial, Buckles, a former Army corporal, lay in repose in the Memorial Chapel at Arlington. A slow stream of mourners filed through to pay their respects. A soldier stood guard at Buckles' casket throughout.

A congressional scuffle of sorts broke out earlier this month over how to honor Buckles and the 4.7 million American veterans who served in the war. Susannah Flanagan, Buckles' daughter, wanted her father to lie in repose in the U.S. Capitol rotunda to represent all American veterans of the war, but Congress did not muster support.

In 1917, Buckles enlisted in the Army at the age of 16. He convinced recruiters that he was 18. He served in England and France during the war as a driver and warehouse clerk. During World War II, Buckles spent more than three years in prison camps after being captured by the Japanese while on business in the Philippines.

Buckles campaigned for a national memorial to honor the American veterans of World War I and served as an honorary chairman for the World War I Memorial Foundation.

President Obama issued a statement after Buckles' death. "Michelle and I were inspired by the service and life story of former Army Corporal Frank W. Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I and the oldest known World War I era veteran in the world, who passed away yesterday at the age of 110."

"Frank Buckles lived the American Century," said Obama's statement. "Like so many veterans, he returned home, continued his education, began a career, and along with his late wife Audrey, raised their daughter Susannah. And just as Frank continued to serve America until his passing, as the Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation, our nation has a sacred obligation to always serve our veterans and their families as well as they've served us."