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Amid Buckles Ruckus, Sgt. York's Grandson Says Family Turned Down Capitol Rotunda

First Posted: 06/14/12 09:22 AM ET Updated: 06/14/12 09:22 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- In stark contrast to the wishes of the last American World War I veteran, the family of one of the most highly decorated soldiers of that conflict turned down offers to have Sgt. Alvin York's body lie in the U.S. Capitol and be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Word leaked Thursday that House and Senate leaders had turned down a request from West Virginia lawmakers that the body of Frank Buckles lie in the Capitol Rotunda. Buckles died Sunday at the age of 110.

York could have received those honors when he died in 1964, but his widow rejected them, the couple's grandson told AOL News today.

"Somebody in Washington contacted my grandmother and wanted to know if he could come and lie in state in D.C. and be buried in Arlington," said Gerald York, a retired Army colonel who lives in Alexandria, Va. "She said no, he always wanted to come home to the valley" in Tennessee where he grew up.

Grace York also turned down offers from local lawmakers to have the Medal of Honor winner lie in the state Capitol in Nashville.

York is buried in a family plot in a country cemetery in his hometown of Pall Mall, Tenn.

Played by Gary Cooper in a 1941 movie, York was arguably the most famous soldier of World War I, and his exploits -- including single-handedly wiping out a German machine-gun nest and killing 28 enemy soldiers and capturing 132 others -- were made for Hollywood.

Buckles, who enlisted when he was just 16, was a corporal who did not see combat. He served as a driver and warehouse clerk in Europe during and after the war.

In recent years, as his cohort of veterans dwindled, he gained fame chiefly for his longevity. Years before his death, his daughter lobbied successfully to convince President George W. Bush to make an exception to allow him to be buried in Arlington.

His funeral and burial are scheduled for March 15. He will be laid to rest not far from John Pershing, the World War I commanding general.

Susannah Buckles Flanagan also wished that her father be honored in the Capitol. In a statement after he died, she said, "How beautiful it is that the United States of America would have the opportunity to participate -- that all the colors of the rainbow would be able to stand shoulder to shoulder to honor Papa."

Despite pleas from the family and West Virginia lawmakers for the Charles Town man to lie where only 32 others have before, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid jointly nixed the idea.

"Everyone honors Mr. Buckles' service to the United States and the extraordinary sacrifices made by every member of our Armed Forces who served in World War I," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. "That's why Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid will ask [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates to allow Mr. Buckles' family to use the amphitheater at Arlington cemetery for his memorial service -– surrounded by honored veterans of every American war."

"Sen. Reid is working with Speaker Boehner on trying to make arrangements for special services at Arlington," said the Democratic leader's spokesman, Jon Summers.

Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, along with the partisan blogosphere and the Buckles family, blamed Boehner for the decision, even though the Rotunda between the House and Senate wings of the Capitol are controlled by both chambers.

"Boehner is going against the will of the people," Buckles family spokesman David DeJonge told a local newspaper.

DeJonge, who founded a group called Survivor Quest and is making a Buckles documentary called "Pershing's Last Patriot," did not return an AOL News request for comment.

He told the Martinsburg Journal that "everyone from motorcycle clubs to representatives of 2,000 war re-enactors already contacted him about participating in a ceremony to honor the nation's last link to WWI, and Arlington National Cemetery won't be able to handle such a huge crowd."

A senior congressional aide, who did not want to be quoted because of the sensitivity of the topic, scoffed at the notion that Arlington, which hosted the funeral of President John F. Kennedy among others, couldn't handle the crowds at Buckles' funeral.

Buckles was eligible to have his cremated remains placed in a columbarium at Arlington, but his family needed special permission for a ground burial, which is restricted to those who die on active duty, are awarded a Purple Heart or higher honor, or spent their careers in the military.

The remains of only a rarefied few have lain in the Capitol. They include presidents, statesmen, military leaders -- including Pershing -- and a handful of private citizens such as civil rights icon Rosa Parks and two Capitol police officers shot dead there in 1998.

In 1921, the Unknown Soldier of World War I was honored there.

Asked what he made of the ruckus over whether Buckles should be honored in the Rotunda, Gerald York tip-toed around the question.

"That's kind of a personal issue with the family and with the government. It is reserved for certain folks, and I understand the folks who want to do it want to honor the passing of a generation," he said. "But it was a personal issue for my grandfather. He always wanted to go home to Tennessee."

This article originally appeared on AOL News on March 4, 2011