Friday, March 04, 2011

"The Last Doughboy"

A passing-of-note took place early this week ...

"Frank W. Buckles died Sunday, sadly yet not unexpectedly at age 110, having achieved a singular feat of longevity that left him proud and a bit bemused," Paul Duggan wrote in
this article for the Washington Post "In 1917 and 1918, close to 5 million Americans served in World War I, and Mr. Buckles, a cordial fellow of gentle humor, was the last known survivor."

When I was young, World War I vets were still common enough that we could all hear their first-hand recollections of that era, and the changes wrought by that conflict. I had both a grandfather and a great-grandfather in the war. But even back then, forty years after that strangely silent November morning signaled the end of "the war to end all wars," the old soldiers were begining to pass on to their final posting.

In the 70s, when I moved to New Mexico to attend college, I ended up living next door to another old vet. A dang Yankee from back-east like myself, he had moved from Ohio to the southwest for health reason, due to a collapsed lung he suffered from a gas attack during the war. A few years after we met, that grand old man passed away.

Sure, we have books and photos, films and audio tapes ... but it isn't quite the same as being there with them, asking questions, listening to the answers, watching their eyes, hearing a catch in their voice, and getting at least some sense of what it must have been like. The recollections are still there, but now they are second-hand ... as Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said, "We have lost a living link to an important era in our nation's history."

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