As the ‘Great War’ Slips From Living Memory

Discussion in 'World War I' started by syscom3, Mar 15, 2008.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    The story appears in today's New York Times.
    Regards

    March 14, 2008, 2:03 pm
    As the ‘Great War’ Slips From Living Memory


    By PATRICK J. LYONS
    Four generations ago, they were in the trenches. Two generations ago, they were still a proud contingent in memorial parades. As recently as the turn of the millennium, you could spot a hardy few waving to the thinning curbside crowds from the backs of bunting-bedecked convertibles, or summoning up the specters of Ypres and Gallipoli and Belleau Wood in History Channel interviews.

    But a time always comes when the very last veterans of a war pass away, and relegate the cataclysm they saw with their own eyes to the bloodless abstraction of recorded history. And for World War I, this may be shaping up as the year.

    The last living man known to have served in the French army during the “war to end all wars” — he was an Italian teenager who joined the Foreign Legion at the outset, and became a French citizen in the 1930’s — died this week at the age of 110. And the man believed to be Germany’s last surviving veteran — no official records are kept there — died in January at 107 (five years after his wife of 75 years, who lived to be 102).

    That leaves just about 20 remaining veterans of the war scattered around the world, one-third of whom saw no fighting in it — down from about 27 at the beginning of the year. Not surprisingly, given their triple-digit ages, even fewer are still able to show the flag in public.

    Frank Buckles, the last known American veteran, visited the White House and attended a ceremony at the Pentagon earlier this month; the second-last American died in February. Harry Patch, Britain’s last known Tommy, visited the long-ago battlefield at Passchendaele, Belgium, last summer at the age of 109. (There’s also a British sailor who saw action at Jutland, and a couple of soldiers who were still in training when the war ended.)

    How much attention these veterans and their passings receive varies a great deal from country to country. The German’s death on New Year’s Day escaped public notice for three weeks and elicited no comment from the government. By contrast, Canada has already set aside money for an elaborate state funeral and memorial ceremony when its last known veteran — John Babcock, 107, who never made it to the front and who emigrated to the United States in the 1920’s — dies.

    From The New York Times, May 19, 1905.
    The “lasts” of America’s earlier wars attracted quite a spotlight in their time, and not a little controversy. Such large crowds descended on City Hall in New York to see Hiram Cronk, the longest-lived veteran of the War of 1812, lying in state in May 1905 that 150 police officers had to be called to the scene to keep order, The New York Times reported.

    The last documented Civil War veteran on the Union side died in 1956 at the age of 106; on the Confederate side, at least a dozen names were put forward as candidates, but many questions were raised about their claims. All were gone by March 1959 except for Walter Williams, whose claimed age (117) and military service were debunked by newspapers later that year; he died in December. The men believed to be the last American veterans of the Spanish-American War died in the late 1980’s.

    All but a tiny handful of World War II veterans are now 80 or older, and they too are starting to dwindle from view.

    If the halest of them live as long as the “lasts” from earlier wars (and while modern medicine and hygiene have greatly extended the average American lifespan, the upper limit has hardly budged), The Lede and its heirs, successors and assigns can expect to have occasion to write a post like this for them around 2035; for Korean War vets, in 2043 or so; for Vietnam, around 2063; and for the first Gulf war, approximately 2081. Can’t tell yet about the second one.
     
  2. magnocain

    magnocain Member

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  3. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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  4. ToughOmbre

    ToughOmbre Active Member

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  5. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
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  6. wilbur1

    wilbur1 Active Member

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  7. A4K

    A4K Well-Known Member

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    Going, but not completely forgotten....

    It's up to us to keep the memory alive.
     
  8. Soundbreaker Welch?

    Soundbreaker Welch? Active Member

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    It's kind of sad really. I hadn't realized it but yeah, now there is hardly anyone to talk to that fought in WWI.

    It's too late............... :(

    Will there still be more interest in WWII once all the veterans from it are nearly gone?

    Another sad thought, that could be as soon as 20 years from now.
     
  9. Thorlifter

    Thorlifter Well-Known Member

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    Very nice article, Sys. Thanks for posting

    :salute:
     
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