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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