The last doughboy is dead

Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, died yesterday. He was 110.  Buckles was only 16 when he signed up, lying to recruiters about his age.  He also survived three and a half years in a Japanese prison camp during World War II.

And so the rest of us move to the front lines. . .

32 thoughts on “The last doughboy is dead

  1. Freaky. Also interesting to note that it was called “The Great War” or “The War to End All Wars” back then. They had no idea that humanity would try to commit suicide again, just 30 years later.

    Yes, I know, I stole that from Vonnegut.

  2. It is my sincerest wish that all soldiers in active duty today attain an even greater age than Corporal Buckles…and I am dismayed to know that oh so many of them will fall short by oh so many decades.

    b&

  3. We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
    In Flanders fields.

    1. Congenially recommend the song “We Are the Dead,” based on this poem, by the British treble choir “Libera,” directed by Robert Prizeman.

      1. Or the son “We Are the Dead” inspired by this poem and Orwell’s 1984. By David Bowie of course. One of the two best songs ever written.

  4. These juxtapositions of young and old of the same person always reminds me that aging truly is a disease that needs to be battled.

    1. Aging and death of the meat-robot is illusory.
      It is the genes & memes that battle for survival.

  5. Meanwhile, unexploded, but still lethal ordnance is still being hauled from the fields and woods of the former battlefields around Verdun. I think estimates are that they’re at best half-finished.

    And on the Italian border with Slovenia, which was part of the front in WWI, the scars, caves and mule paths are still very evident on the escarpments along the Soča (Isonzo) River near Kobarid and Bovec. Conservative estimates are that three hundred thousand (and that number may be just the Italians) died on that ~100km front. I kayaked a short distance on the Soča during a meeting a couple yrs ago, without fully understanding the significance of what I was seeing until later, but it was enormously sobering once I did.

  6. He survived two world wars – that is some story. I well remember as a child seeing old men who had been gassed – with the ruined faces that often entailed. Hard to be sad at his great age – but maybe for the ones who did not come back.

  7. And we still send children out to die in war. That for me is the saddest part, we still haven’t worked out a better way to sort out our differences, we are still adding names to memorials.

  8. That’s made me spend a day thinking about my two grandfathers – one was gassed and the other was riddled with shrapnel in WWI . I remember him sitting in the garden on a sunny day and cheerfully showing me (then about 9 years old) the white star-shaped scars in his shins and shoulders. Apparently, according to my mother, that was one of the first times he had ever talked about it.

    1. It’s made me think of my grandfather just now, too. The one neither I nor my father ever knew, since he died on the Death March (they thought) in Corregidor. My dad grew up with his mom, his grandma, and a letter from President Truman, like many of his generation (war baby–1940). Kind of funny, in a way–my dad’s father was killed by the Japanese, and his daughter is now married to a Japanese man…

      1. Wow. That is…thought provoking, to say the least!

        Come to think of it, it’s been amazing how rapidly our enemies have become our friends, once a war is over. (And in some cases, our friends become our enemies. [USSR])

        And of course, your post made me think of Roger Waters’s mother’s letter from “kind old King George,” as referenced in “When the Tigers Broke Free…”

  9. I add: even if only two percent of those supposed to perform military service should declare themselves war resisters and assert, “We are not going to fight. We need other methods of settling international disputes,” the governments would be powerless — they could not put such masses into jail.

    Albert Einstein

  10. On my “Rants & Raves” blog, http://qdosmsq.dunbar-it.co.uk/blog I have a photo taken by a friend of mine in Belgium.

    It’s a beautiful spot, with a pond, trees, grass etc. Very peaceful.

    Until you find out where it is and how it came to be.

    If you are interested, click on ABOUT, then scroll down to the small picture, then click it for full size. The About page has all the details.

    Wars, as Billy Connelly once said, should be fought by the politicians who start them.

    Cheers,
    Norm.

  11. Futility

    Move him into the sun –
    Gently its touch awoke him once,
    At home, whispering of fields unsown.
    Always it woke him, even in France,
    Until this morning and this snow.
    If anything might rouse him now
    The kind old sun will know.

    Think how it wakes the seeds, –
    Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
    Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
    Full-nerved, – still warm, – too hard to stir?
    Was it for this the clay grew tall?
    – O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
    To break earth’s sleep at all?

    – Wilfrid Owen, British poet and officer, killed one week before the armistice

  12. Prof. Coyne, thankyou for highlighting this story. The last two british survivors died within a few months of each other in 2009 and there was a huge state funeral to celebrate the life and mourn the passing of the final one. He was staunchly anti-war throughout his life, after WWI. I believe the very last survivor of the war is living in Australia.

  13. A couple of points for anyone interested:

    1) The last British WW1 survivor was Harry Patch, who’s autobiography published only a few years ago is excellent. Not only did he get a state funeral, but even better a song by Radiohead to mourn his passing.

    2) The best WW1 song is of course Eric Bogle’s “No Man’s Land”, covered by a zillion people, sometimes under the alternate title “The Green Fields of France”. The best of these versions is (IMHO) the one under the latter title by The Men They Couldn’t Hang.

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