Library Preserves Voice of Last Living World War I Veteran

I was saddened yesterday by the news that one of the last two known living U.S. veterans of World War I, Harry Landis, had died at age 108.

Frank BucklesThat leaves 107-year-old Frank Buckles of Charles Town, W. Va., as the sole surviving American veteran of the “Great War” that began more than 90 years ago.

I was aware that their ranks were dwindling, but I didn’t realize that the numbers were so low.

A few months ago, I wrote about a new Web site from the Library’s Veterans History Project (VHP) that gathers 279 collections of World War I veterans. The VHP has been expressing the urgency of collecting these stories for this very reason. (They’re also seeking materials such as letters, diaries and photos relating to the experiences of WWI veterans who are no longer with us.)

I was curious as to whether we had the oral history of the last remaining WWI veteran. As it turns out, the Library of Congress and its Veterans History Project are indeed the repository of the Frank Buckles collection.

According to Bob Patrick, director of the VHP: “We are losing living touchstones to our nation’s historic events. VHP through the recorded interviews it collects allows us to keep the voices and images of our wartime ‘alive’ like we have never been able to do before.”

According to the VHP Web site, Buckles himself explained why he told his story:

“It’s best for anyone who’s been in the military service if he’s had some disagreeable experiences … to talk about it and get it out of his system and then forget it.”

Thanks to the VHP, we need never forget these stories of ordinary people amid extraordinary times.

The Veterans History Project is also seeking help to bolster its collections relating to women and minority veterans, in particular. If you know of someone whose story needs to be told, or if you’d like to help gather those oral histories, you can visit the VHP Web site here.

UPDATE: Newsweek calls World War I “The War We Forgot.”

(Undated image of Frank Buckles from VHP Web site)

6 Comments

  1. Jennifer
    February 7, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks for posting about this, I’ve been meaning to check out the VHP for a while, and this finally spurred me to do so. Sad that someone’s death had to be the inspiration, but I think what VHP is doing is amazing, and so very important!

  2. Bob Meade
    February 7, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    The VHP is a wonderful trove. I’ve found the best place to start is the Staff Favorites section:

    http://www.loc.gov/vets/staff-favorites-list.html

    within that section my favorite is Edward Bayon’s recounting of his trip escorting the USA’s fallen immediately after the war:

    http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/story/loc.natlib.afc2001001.05816/transcriptturner?ID=pm0001001

  3. Matt Keegan
    March 7, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    My grandfather served in WW1, but he died when I was a baby, in 1959 to be exact. His children, which included my mother and her siblings, were of age in WWII, so I know first hand about that war.

    I’m glad that the Library of Congress has “Great War” veteran interviews for our perusal. Come to think of it, within the next two decades, there won’t be any WWII vets living either.

  4. Bilim Haberleri
    March 28, 2008 at 8:47 am

    Thanks for posting about this, I’ve been meaning to check out the VHP for a while, and this finally spurred me to do so.

  5. Colin Waye
    April 11, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Looking for US Navy Marine WW1.

    He is a cousin

    World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918
    Name: Edward James Wilkey
    222 Marimac(?)
    City: Newburyport
    County: Essex
    State: Massachusetts
    Birthplace: Wakefield, Mass; United States of America
    Birth Date: 5 Dec 1895
    Occupation: laborer at Cashman Bros, Newburyport
    Single
    Previous military: seaman, US Navy, 3 1/2 yrs.
    medium height/medium build; blue eyes/light hair
    Race: Caucasian (White)
    Roll: 1684578
    DraftBoard: 20
    June 5, 1917

    1920 United States Federal Census
    Jan 1, 1920
    Name: Edward J Wilkey
    Home in 1920: Marine Barracks, US Navy Yard, Portsmouth Lee Ward, Portsmouth (Independent City), Virginia
    Age: 24 years
    Estimated birth year: abt 1896
    Birthplace: Massachusetts
    Father’s Birth Place: Bermuda
    *Mother’s Birth Place: Nova Scotia
    Marital Status: Single
    Race: White
    Sex: Male
    Able to read: Yes
    Able to Write: Yes
    Edward J. Wilkey, 24, single, b MA, Private, USMC
    {U S Marine Corp)

    Where could I get a death certificate or any other info ?

  6. Jeffrey Lofton, Veterans History Project
    April 14, 2008 at 11:44 am

    Mr. Waye, VHP comprises interviews and other historical documents voluntarily donated by veterans, families, and others, but we do not maintain official records (e.g., death certificates). We recommend you contact the local courthouse, as it might have documentation of Edward Wilkey’s passing. Or, you might turn to the IRS (I believe the IRS requests death certificates and related information in some instances).

    Please post again if you have additional questions about the Veterans History Project.

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