MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A documentary film about the last American veteran of World War I is being screened throughout May in Missouri and Arkansas to help continue the late Frank Buckles’ fight for a memorial to his comrades on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The unfinished film, “Pershing’s Last Patriot,” was first screened in Iowa earlier this month. Producer David DeJonge said Monday he hopes to get feedback and secure enough donations to finish the film, which he calls “90 minutes of unbelievable American history” that is also a “100 percent inspiring, true American story.”
Buckles died on his farm in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle in February 2010 at age 110. The last doughboy had devoted his final years to seeking greater recognition for the conflict that claimed 116,516 American lives.
The film tells the story of Buckles’ adventures as a young man and his years as a prisoner of war during World War II but mainly focuses on his quest for the memorial.
He enlisted the support of U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and visited former President George W. Bush at the White House while he and DeJonge crisscrossed the country. There is also footage from Buckles’ funeral, which President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden attended.
Though Buckles visited the National World War I Museum in Kansas City and supported its mission of education, he also believed there should also be a place in the nation’s capital to pay respects. The idea, however, has been thwarted by legislation limiting construction of monuments and memorials.
DeJonge began his film five years ago when he and Buckles visited the abandoned District of Columbia War Memorial. The sidewalk was so badly cracked that Buckles’ wheelchair got stuck.
DeJonge of Grand Rapids, Mich., has funded most of the documentary himself. But he said he needs about $35,000 to purchase high-resolution ar-chival footage, interview a Yale University expert, do final editing and enter film festivals.
DeJonge says the project has cost about $200,000 already.
Buckles lied about his age to enlist at 16, then went on to outlive 4.7 million other Americans who served.
He never saw combat.