Last Living US Veteran of WWI Dies--Some Thoughts

Frank Buckles, the last living U.S. veteran of World War I has died; he was 110. Here’s the story, from NPR.

What does this have to do with food and France (the topic of this blog)?

Monument aux Morts in Ceret, France

You can’t go anywhere in France without being reminded of World War I.  Every city, town, and lieu-dit (unincorporated village) honors their war dead with a monument smack-dab in the middle of the community where no one can miss it; each monument lists every fallen soldier’s name, meaning that across France, 1,397,800 WWI soldiers are honored. Added after the monuments were originally built are the names of 217,600 French military deaths incurred during World War II.

Next time you go to France, look for the war monument in the towns you travel through. They won’t be hard to find, and most are fascinating: haunting, sad, and beautiful at the same time. Each one is different, and expresses war differently. However, most all of them list the men lost as “Enfants Morts Pour la France” (children who died for France). That should give one pause.

What also moves me is how when you look at the alphabetized names of soldiers, you’ll often see lists from the same last name: two, three, four, five men from the same family, whether brothers or cousins. Sometimes, you’ll see two men with the same first and last name, making you wonder if both father and son were lost.

I also appreciate the way that you will still often see fresh flowers laid at the base of these monuments. France remembers.

The above photo is of my favorite “Monument aux Morts” in Ceret, in France’s Catalan region. What a moving way to show the the after-effects of war: A woman (mother? sister? wife? daughter?) grieving. It’s by the Catalan sculptor and painter Aristide Maillol.

Here’s another one, from Ile-sur-Têt, France (also in the Catalan region of France). A completely different expression of war:

Monument aux Morts in Ile sur Tet, France

Back to Frank Buckles. In 2007, the writer Richard Rubin speculated, in an Op-Ed piece for The New York Times, about what it would mean when Mr. Buckles passed. It’s a beautiful piece, called “Over There–and Gone Forever.” I quote a paragraph from it here:

“It’s hard for anyone, I imagine, to say for certain what it is that we will lose when Frank Buckles dies. It’s not that World War I will then become history; it’s been history for a long time now. But it will become a different kind of history, the kind we can’t quite touch anymore, the kind that will, from that point on, always be just beyond our grasp somehow. We can’t stop that from happening. But we should, at least, take notice of it.”

If the topic interests you at all, I encourage you to read the piece; we may not have the monuments that France does, but this piece can at least help us take notice of this point in history.

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