In 2003, eighty-five years after the armistice, it took Richard Rubin months to find just one living American veteran of World War I. But then, he found another. And another. Eventually he found dozens, aged 101 to 113, and interviewed them. All are gone now.
A decade-long odyssey to recover the story of a forgotten generation and their war led Rubin across the United States and France, through archives, private collections, battlefields, literature, propaganda, and even music. But at the center of it all were the last of the last, the men and women he met: a new immigrant, drafted and sent to France, whose life was saved by a horse; a Connecticut Yankee who volunteered and fought in every major American battle; a Cajun artilleryman nearly killed by a German airplane; an eighteen-year-old Bronx girl "drafted" to work for the War Department; a machine gunner from Montana; a marine wounded at Belleau Wood; the sixteen-year-old who became America's last World War I veteran; and many more.
They were the final survivors of the millions who made up the American Expeditionary Forces, nineteenth-century men and women living in the twenty-first century. Self-reliant, humble, and stoic, they kept their stories to themselves for a lifetime, then shared them at the last possible moment so that they, and the war they won—the trauma that created our modern world—might at last be remembered. You will never forget them. The Last of the Doughboys is more than simply a war story; it is a moving meditation on character, grace, aging, and memory.
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“Richard Rubin has performed an extraordinary
feat of World War I sleuthing. He has managed to track down numerous
centenarians—centenarians!—who fought in the trenches and has skillfully
resurrected their memories in a way that brings that now sepia-toned conflict
into focus as sharp as a bayonet. Rubin refers to these doughboys as ‘the
forgotten generation.’ Yet he brings them back unforgettably. And his book is
Joseph E. Persico, New York Times bestselling author of My American Journey