Last Doughboy Dies at 110
He was born in 1901 and died on Sunday—the last known American survivor of World War I. Frank Buckles, 110, was one of nearly 5 million Americans that served in the forces in 1917-8, and he never imagined he'd be the last one alive. "I knew there'd be only one someday," he said a few years ago as popular attention turned to the dwindling number of surviving doughboys. "I didn't think it would be me." Born in Missouri, Buckles joined the army at age 16 after telling the recruiting officer he was old enough to join, reports the Washington Post. Buckles spent the war behind the front lines, driving trucks and working in warehouses in England and France. Buckles also spent time as a civilian POW in the Philippines in World War II, before settling on a farm in West Virginia to raise a family. Buckles, a widower, died there of natural causes while being tended by his daughter.
It's amazing how much has happened within the lifespan of a single man, even considering how long-lived he was at 110. Consider that a hundred years ago, so many of the things we take for granted today as a vital part of our daily lives not only didn't exist, but at best was only a twinkle in the eye of some sci-fi writer. if not technology, then consider just how much history has gone by. Two world wars, the stock market crash, the rise and fall of communism, etc. It's almost too much to take into consideration when you think about it. Certainly I can't even begin to imagine what the world will be like in 100 years when I consider what happened in the last hundred.
Of course, the death of Frank Buckles also means it's the ending of an era. I always had the impression that WWI and its vets got the short end of the stick compared to its more famous little brother. They may have called WWII the great war but the good war always made for better storytelling. Seldom has a conflict so universally touched upon the themes of 'good' vs 'evil' and instilled the belief that the outcome would really fundamentally decide the fate of the world. In that way, WWI always seemed to have been left in the dust to some degree. I remember reading of a history project, where people were rushing to interview as many vets of WWII as they could so the oral history wouldn't be lost when they all died. Ironically, I heard of no similar effort for WWI though its participants are necessarily older and, of course, now it is pretty much too late. I can't help but wonder if it will actually be easier to change the perception of these events now that the last eyewitnesses are passing on, or if it will cement and fossilize what we already believe. Just take the one example of holocaust deniers and imagine how things will change once the last person who actually saw the concentration camps and progroms with their own eyes is no longer around. Sure, there will always be photos and news articles and even videos but as we've seen with people who deny the moon landing, the power of skepticism is enough to overcome almost any amount of objective evidence.
Oh well. For my part, I can't help but hope that history does tend to slow down over the course of the rest of my life. Great events surely are exciting but at this point I think I could settle for some nice, boring plodding.