Thingish Things

Johnny Goes Marching Home

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Mar• 01•11

“I realized that somebody had to be [the last survivor], and it was me.” — Frank Buckles 2008

The last surviving American veteran of World War One is gone. Frank Buckles of Morgantown, WV died this week at age 110.  Mr. Buckles, who outlived nearly five million Americans doughboys with whom he served , talked his way into the U.S. Army in 1917, at the age of 16.

There are just two First World War veterans alive now – one in England, the other in Australia.  Both fought for the so-called Triple Entente.  Both are 110.

I remember the World War I veterans marching up Fifth Avenue when I was a kid in New York City in the 1960’s.  There were lots of them, and, in retrospect, they weren’t that old at the time – mostly in their sixties and seventies.  It occurs to me only now that the really old marchers probably were veterans of the Spanish-American War.  How quickly history fades.

To the day he died, Frank Buckles advocated for a World War One monument on the Washington Mall.  It’s a crime there’s not one. Sixteen million people died in that war, including 117,000 Americans.  Another 21 million were wounded.

World War One is now practically forgotten.  Just two left. All nearly quiet on the Western Front.

Ye sleepers, who will sing you?
We can but give our tears

Ye dead men, who shall bring
Fame in the coming
Brave souls . . . but who
The flame that fired your
embers? . . .
Deep, deep the sleep that holds
Who one time had no

–Robert Ernest Vernède, 1875-1917


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  1. I still pause and shake my head every time I see a statue or plaque commemorating the sacrifice of local men who gave their lives in that conflict: it is always referred to as “The” World War. Americans are always so optimistic.

  2. Me says:

    Well put!

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