World War I has no national monument. No iconic images. And only one soldier is still alive.”
In early 2008 Tony Dokoupil of Newsweek set out the need for a national memorial to honor those who served during World War I (“The War We Forgot“). Unfortunately, more than two years later, there’s still not much accomplished in that regard.
Of the 2 million American soldiers sent to the trenches during World War I, only Frank Woodruff Buckles is still alive.”
Thankfully and quite amazingly, Frank Buckles is still with us. A photo of Buckles when he enlisted in the Army in 1917 adjoined the article. In 2008, the only other known WWI veteran in the United States was Harry Landis, but he died in February of that same year at age 108.
Bob Patrick, director of the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project, argued at the time that losing Landis and eventually Buckles will result in the loss of “a living touchstone of history.” Yet now as then U.S. officials have made no plans.
Britain plans to hold an elaborate ceremony at Westminster Abbey when the last of its three remaining WWI veterans die. Canada and France, which each have one remaining veteran, have also announced plans to hold a state funeral.”
It “remains a largely forgotten conflict.”
There wasn’t even a list of living veterans until author Richard Rubin began researching a book in 2004, The Last of the Doughboys. He wrote a profile of Buckles for the Smithsonian magazine. “Nobody–not the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion–knew how many there were,” Rubin said.
But it might ultimately come down to records: WWI was the last war fought without modern methods of bearing witness. There are virtually no film reels, few battle photographs, only a smattering of reliable frontline news reports, and much of what exists was either produced under suffocating censorship or made as propaganda.”
Buckles doesn’t have any candid photographs from his time during the war. He has only three posed portraits.
In recent years, Buckles has also become a reluctant spokesperson for his generation–its impact and its memory. “Might as well be me,” he told Newsweek, adding that an official service honoring all U.S. veterans when he dies would be the “right thing to do.”
The World War One Museum in Kansas City is the only national institution with plans to commemorate the Doughboy generation. “We just don’t know what that means yet,” Denise Rendina, a spokeswoman for the museum, said.
Consider writing to your Member of Congress, Senators, the Veterans’ Administration, and the White House Commission on Remembrance, which is tasked with remembering “America’s fallen.”