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World War I veterans

K.D. Lightner

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2,354
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Des Moines, IA
I put this under Observation Bar because I wasn't sure where else it belonged. There is a WW II site, but this is about WW I veterans.

Some years ago I got obsessed with keeping count of the number of surviving WW I veterans left in the world, and found out at that time there were less than 1,000 total all over the world. Since then, the numbers have dropped dramatically and there are now 45 left, some unconfirmed, and some who joined after the U.S. Armistice Day.

If you are interested in seeing who is a surviving veteran in various countries, they are keeping track almost daily now on this website:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surviving_veterans_of_World_War_I

Most of the Great War vets are now well over 100 and one U.S. veteran was the oldest living person in the world for a short while before he died at the age of 115 in January. Some of their personal stories are quite interesting.

karol
 

K.D. Lightner

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2,354
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Des Moines, IA
Wow, James; hard to believe that, as old as he would be now, he still would have been little more than a kid when he enlisted.

Did he enlist late in the war or sneak in under-aged? There are vets claiming they went in at the age of 13.

My mother came from a family of many siblings, so her oldest brother was in WW I and her two youngest brothers were in WW II.

I hope you find his photo, would love to see it.

karol
 

Archie Goodwin

One of the Regulars
Messages
167
Location
New Orleans
I have always felt that WW1 gets too little attention in the media and in history courses. It is hard to explain in a short post. I enjoyed the link to the wikipedia article, and noted with interest the Canadian plans to have a state funereal to honour the last of their veterans. I wish the U.S. would do something along the same lines. As a student of history, I know that there has always been good and bad in every era, but it seems to me that there was a tremendous loss of optimism and naivete (in the best sense of the word) after the war.
 

Harp

I'll Lock Up
Messages
8,508
Location
Chicago, IL US
K.D. Lightner said:
Wow, James; hard to believe that, as old as he would be now, he still would have been little more than a kid when he enlisted.
Did he enlist late in the war or sneak in under-aged? There are vets claiming they went in at the age of 13.
karol


...that was not unusual during the Vietnam War, and probably a more
common occurrence in 1914-18.
 

K.D. Lightner

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2,354
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Des Moines, IA
Yes, I noticed that France has plans for a state funeral, also, for the last veteran in that country. Maybe we will come around to it.

I agree with you on the historical significance of WW I. It was called The Great War, The War to End all Wars, some even thought it was Armagedon. It was also a war that changed the way we did combat, too, and forget the horse cavalry. Machine guns, tanks, mustard gas, bombs, air combat -- whole new ways to fight wars. Maybe the first fears of mass destruction or total annihilation.

Imagine the cyncism and let-down it caused when they realized it was not going to end all wars.

Some are concerned that there are people now claiming they fought in WWI but there is no documentation to be found on them. I think some countries are hoping that the last veteran in their country will be someone who is documented. There was one old fellow recently who claimed he was in WW I, but, when they finally found documentation on him, he was "only" 89 years old.

I think countries differ on who they claim was in the war, too, which is why they now have a category of WW I era veterans. The war ended in the U.S. on Armistice Day, but, I gather in other countries, it did not. Fighting may have ended, but the war was not declared as over.

There are those who watch to see who the last veteran will be who actually saw battle, as some still alive were in training when the war ended.

I suppose there will be the same contentions about WWII, also.

karol
 

Atticus Finch

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2,717
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Coastal North Carolina, USA
Hi Folks,

For some reason I was thinking about this very topic just the other day. When I was a child---even a young teenager---I knew quite a few WWI vets in my small home town. I even had the pleasure of knowing one Spanish American War veteran.

One of the WWI vets was a tall, lanky, Bojangles sort of fellow who worked for my uncle doing odd jobs. He had been gassed in the war and was thereby partially disabled for life. But there has never been a happier person to walk the face of this earth. He was as poor as a church mouse, but he was always singing or laughing and always had chewing gum for my friends and me. My father once told me that when TV came to Beaufort in the middle 1950s, Loose (his nickname) refused to walk in front of a TV set other than fully dressed. He was convinced that the actors on television could see him as well as he could see them!

Another WWI vet owned a small neighborhood store at the end of my block. He would let the kids bring in their report cards and pick out a nickle's worth of penny candy if they had earned good grades that term. His thumb and part of his index finger was missing and he used to tell us that they had been shot off in the war. The truth was, long after WWI, he had cut them off cleaving meat in his store. But to a bunch of eight-year-old boys, it was a great story and we would make him re-tell it every time we saw him.

By the way, I guess that I should add that I'm now fifty-one, so many of these memories are now forty or more years old and the vets I speak of have been dead thirty-odd years.

Atticus
 
K.D. Lightner said:
Wow, James; hard to believe that, as old as he would be now, he still would have been little more than a kid when he enlisted.

Did he enlist late in the war or sneak in under-aged? There are vets claiming they went in at the age of 13.

My mother came from a family of many siblings, so her oldest brother was in WW I and her two youngest brothers were in WW II.

I hope you find his photo, would love to see it.

karol

The story goes that my great grandparents came over here before WWI because the situation for making a living over there stunk. They worked in the cotton mills on the east coast and my grandfather was largely educated here.
Around 1916-1917 they went back with a lot of the earnings they saved because they could live there fairly well. My grandfather found out that it wasn't very well for him. Just about as soon as he landed the military was after him there and his parents had arranged a marriage with a woman older than him! He went right back to the American Consulate and arranged to enlist in the American Army. He said that if he were going to fight in the military, it would be the American military. He tried to get his younger brother to come with him but he didn't go for that kind of adventure (kind of strange considering he ended up being a policeman with the force for well over thirty years). So, he came back and enlisted to become an American citizen and a military man. I have no idea how he got in but records in those days could be fudged anyway possible---especially if he told the guy he was going to be stuck in an arranged marriage. :p
He didn't go back until 1968. Funny thing is he never regretted his decision to leave. In fact, when he came back all those years later, he got off the airplane and fortwrightly told my father that he would have kissed the ground if he weren't a proud man. :p

Regards,

J
 

ENfield3-8303

Familiar Face
Messages
74
Location
Harrisburg,PA
Archie Goodwin said:
I have always felt that WW1 gets too little attention in the media and in history courses.
I agree completely! Believe it or not, the first world war didn't rate so much a single weeks' study in my high school, much less addressing any of the events leading up to it.
Sad to say, but the second world war barely rated one week- and that was focused almost exclusively on one aspect of the war....:eusa_doh:
 

K.D. Lightner

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2,354
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Des Moines, IA
I wonder how much time they devote to the Korean War? Isn't that the war they call "the forgotten war?" And, yet, we are still dealing with the fallout of North Korea today more than ever!

I remember we spent a lot of time on the Civil War, and earlier wars, even the War of 1812. I can't recall we spent much time on WWI. We did cover WWII when I was in high school, probably because 1959 was the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the war when Germany bombed Poland, etc.

What I recall most about WWI at the time was some of the movies. There was Wings, and the excellent All Quiet on the Western Front, and, of course, Sgt. York. Years and years later, I saw Galipoli, a really devastating film about Australian soldiers.

And there were authors who wrote about it and were affected by it (Hemingway and that whole "lost generation" as Gertrude Stein called it).

And, of course, I knew some older fellows who had fought in it.

But, yes, I think WWI was brushed over in history classes even when I was in school.

karol
 

Haversack

One Too Many
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Clipperton Island
Growing up, WWI was still a touchable time. Both of my grandfathers enlisted. One, the Californian never made it east of Reno before it ended. The other, the Kentishman, went back to Britain at the end on 1914, and spent the next 3 1/2 years on the Western Front. The real impact of the war didn't really hit me until I was about ten when my English grandfather took to the UK to meet that side of the family. That is when I found out that my grandfather had started the war with five brothers and finished it with one. Similarly, my Scots grandmother had four brothers when the war began, and 1 3/4 brothers at its conclusion. I've still got the shrapnel that was dug out of my great uncle Sam. It includes a bit of chain, a sardine can key, and a brass hose coupling.

Haversack.

"Its two minutes to eleven. You have just enough time to make it."
 

Chanfan

A-List Customer
Messages
371
Location
Seattle, WA
Yes, WWI does seem to fly under the radar, as it were. Not as glamorous as WWII - there must be WWI reenactors, but I haven't seen much on it. The air war is undoubtedly the exception. Dashing men in jodhpurs and their flying machines cut a fine figure, whereas thousands of muddy fellows getting gassed or machine-gunned is not the stuff of Hollywood stories, for the most part.

One of my grandfathers was a WWI vet - alas, I never met the man. Apparently, he was a mechanic in the 94th Aero squadron (Eddie Rickenbacker's unit). He felt this was not actually being in the fight, so he decided (possibly deserted?) to join an infantry unit. All he ended up fighting was trench-foot, and was invalided home.
 

K.D. Lightner

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2,354
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Des Moines, IA
I would think that WW I would be more immediate, perhaps discussed more in European schools than it is here in the U.S. Same with WW II -- folks "over there" can still see the devastation caused by those wars.

Here in the U.S., we can see monuments and battle and grave sites from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War -- all the wars fought on our ground -- and now including, of course, sadly, the War on Terror. I have not been back to NY since I left in the 80's, but do get a shock now when I see photos and films of the NYC skyline.

I wonder if the presence of war on familiar ground results in that particular nation's schools teaching more about that war.

I think another thing about WWI, now that I am looking back, is that it was more confusing to me -- I could not have told you what started it, how it got to be what it was, who was doing what to whom, how the U.S. finally got involved, whereas WW II seemed to be viewed in school as a "good guys/bad buys" kind of war what with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the horrific things the Nazis did.

karol
 

LizzieMaine

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Where The Tourists Meet The Sea
I wrote a long and detailed paper for my high school world history class on the web of political alliances that led to WW1, which I think impressed my teacher terribly -- he wrote "An Erudite Synopsis!" on the paper when he handed it back. But the sad part is that that paper was at least three times as long as the discussion of the war in our text book. And yes, I do think it's the most forgotten of wars -- even though it was arguably the seminal event of the 20th century.

We never got as far as WW2 in any class I took. Everything I know about it I had to learn on my own. Three cheers for 1970s public education.
 

Haversack

One Too Many
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1,191
Location
Clipperton Island
Most people have heard of Barbara Tuchman's Book, _The Guns of August_ which describes the planning, outbreak, and initial battles of the First World War. She has a second book, _The Proud Tower_ which goes into the 25 years leading up to WWI. This provides much of the context lacking if one has only traced the treaties and telegrams which flew after Princip stumbled across the Archduke and his wife. Still, what made this war so horrible was that it didn't have to happen.

If you get a chance to watch Attenbourgh's first film, _Oh What a Levely War!_, (it just came out on DVD), The Game of Europe at the movie's beginning also helps to understand the dummkopfery of it all.

Haversack.
 

BegintheBeguine

My Mail is Forwarded Here
Mustard Gas

I've always been interested in WWI. A love of silent movies and that era helped. I heard or read that horror movie makeup was based on the tragic disfigurement of mustard gas victims, as was the cubist painting style. Does anyone else know anything about this? Ma granpere was an interpreter, but he died :( while my mom was pregnant with my big sister and my mom said he never talked about his experiences.
 

Hondo

One Too Many
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1,655
Location
Northern California
Chanfan said:
Yes, WWI does seem to fly under the radar, as it were. Not as glamorous as WWII - there must be WWI reenactors, but I haven't seen much on it. The air war is undoubtedly the exception. Dashing men in jodhpurs and their flying machines cut a fine figure, whereas thousands of muddy fellows getting gassed or machine-gunned is not the stuff of Hollywood stories, for the most part.

One of my grandfathers was a WWI vet - alas, I never met the man. Apparently, he was a mechanic in the 94th Aero squadron (Eddie Rickenbacker's unit). He felt this was not actually being in the fight, so he decided (possibly deserted?) to join an infantry unit. All he ended up fighting was trench-foot, and was invalided home.

I understand the "not as glamorous" term for WWI, probably due to not having many members alive. I am trying to to get a photo copy of my great grandfather in his uniform, he served in WWI as second Lt. Chaplin in Army Artillery, I think thats infantry division.
I have his uniform minus cap, campaign ribbons insignias, or rank. After he died, the whole family became vultures and striped everything and left my father with only uniform and flag that draped his coffin. I'll scan the photo soon. I only remember my great grandfather through family photos, met him only a few times when I was 8 or 9 years old, photos help relive much happier times, as my great grandfather died when I was 10.
You can always include WWI with WWII section, not a problem ;)
 

Vladimir Berkov

One Too Many
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1,291
Location
Austin, TX
The lack of interest in WWI might also be an particularly American problem. I don't think most Americans see WWI as having much of an impact on the United States, and to an extent they are right. In contrast, WW2 is told as the great story of the US leading the side of "good" against the forces of "evil" and emerging victorious and prosperous.

What people seem to forget is that WWI and WW2 are linked, in a sense the "interwar period" of the 20s and 30s was not so much a period between wars but rather a ceasefire of the same war.
 

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