Cheat-Seeking Missles

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Last Veteran Of WWI

Last night in commemorating Veterans Day, I erred in writing that there are no more living WWI vets to honor.

I was wrong. There is still one: Frank Buckles, 106, the sole survivor of the 2 million doughboys we sent overseas (including my grandfather, Homer Fassnacht) to stop the Kaiser. Here's his war story, as told today in a wonderful piece by NYT contributing op/ed writer Richard Rubin:

A few years ago, I set out to see if I could find any living American World War I veterans. No one — not the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or the American Legion — knew how many there were or where they might be. As far as I could tell, no one much seemed to care, either.

Eventually, I did find some, including Frank Buckles, who was 102 when we first met. Eighty-six years earlier, he’d lied about his age to enlist. The Army sent him to England but, itching to be near the action, he managed to get himself sent on to France, though never to the trenches.

After the armistice, he was assigned to guard German prisoners waiting to be repatriated. Seeing that he was still just a boy, the prisoners adopted him, taught him their language, gave him food from their Red Cross packages, bits of their uniforms to take home as souvenirs.

Of being the last, Buckles speaks for all the vets of what was supposed to be the last war:

“For a long time I’ve felt that there should be more recognition of the surviving veterans of World War I,” he tells me; now that group is, more or less, him. How does he feel about that? “Someone has to do it,” he says blithely, but adds: “It kind of startles you.”

Do read the story and pause for a moment to think what it means when the living history of something dies, and the textbook history is all that is left. As Rubin says, the history doesn't change, but it becomes different, "just beyond our grasp somehow."

hat-tip: Real Clear Politics

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