Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Last Living American WWI Veteran

An interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times profiles Frank Buckles,the last living American World War I Veteran.

My ongoing fascination with the turn of the 20th century on into the WWI era and beyond made me sit up and notice this one. I was frankly surprised (no pun intended) to find that any WWI veterans were left. Frank Buckles was born in 1901, about a month after my paternal grandfather, whom I knew had been too young to enlist. In the manner of many young men wanting to rush to war, Buckles lied about his age.

And now he finds himself the last living American vet who actually saw action. (The piece does mention there are two others still alive who were in basic training at the time of the armistice, so never saw action. Buckles actually spent time in France.)

Richard Rubin's article is worth reading, especially for his comparisons of the world WWI vets returned to versus the world WWII vets found upon their arrival home.

And I appreciate his thoughtful conclusion to the piece:

It’s hard for anyone, I imagine, to say for certain what it is that we will lose when Frank Buckles dies. It’s not that World War I will then become history; it’s been history for a long time now. But it will become a different kind of history, the kind we can’t quite touch anymore, the kind that will, from that point on, always be just beyond our grasp somehow. We can’t stop that from happening. But we should, at least, take notice of it.


Erin said...

Very poignant. It's sad to think of that living history being nearly gone now. Kind of a reminder of the importance of hearing and preserving the stories of our elders while we still can...

Beth said...

Yes, definitely. I really was surprised to find there were any WWI vets left. I'm glad this writer decided to call attention to that fact!

We've lost so many WWII vets in recent years too. I'm glad that Ken Burns decided to make a documentary to tell some of their stories.