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.
That 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)