Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Last Dough Boy

George Will on the last surviving US veteran of WWI at 107.

A soldier in the first World War, a Japanese prisoner of war in the second:

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Numbers come precisely from the agile mind and nimble tongue of Frank Buckles, who seems bemused to say that 4,734,991 Americans served in the military during America's involvement in the First World War and 4,734,990 are gone. He is feeling fine, thank you for asking.

The eyes of the last doughboy are still sharp enough for him to be a keen reader, and his voice is still deep and strong at age 107. He must have been a fine broth of a boy when, at 16, persistence paid off and he found, in Oklahoma City, an Army recruiter who believed, or pretended to, the fibs he had unavailingly told to Marine and Navy recruiters in Kansas about being 18.

...On June 28, 1914, an assassin's bullet in Sarajevo killed the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The war that followed took more than 116,000 American lives -- more than all of America's wars after the Second World War. And in a sense, the First World War took many more American lives because it led to the Second World War and beyond.

The First World War is still taking American lives because it destroyed the Austro-Hungarian, Romanoff and Ottoman empires. A shard of the latter is called Iraq.

The 20th century's winds of war blew billions of ordinary people hither and yon. One of them sits here in a cardigan sweater in an old wood and stone house on a rise on a 330-acre cattle farm. In this case, and probably in every case, the word "ordinary" is inappropriate.

Another American veteran's story to consider this Memorial Day weekend.

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