We had a really good Memorial Day weekend—it was absolutely gorgeous weather, we spent lots of time with good friends, we spent lots of time with each other. And, I thought a lot about a man named Frank Buckles.
Frank Buckles is 107 years old. When I first started waiting for him about ten years ago—not even knowing his name at the time—he was one of a few thousand. A few years later he was one of a hundred. In May of last year, he was one of a handful. And now, he is the only one. There were 4,734,991 Americans who served in World War I. 4,734,990 of them have died. Frank Buckles is the only one left. I can't even imagine how bizarre it must be for him to be the last man standing in the Great War, the one overshadowed by everything that came after. 116,000 Americans died fighting in the Great War. More than every other war after World War II, combined.
Memorial Day isn't just about WWI, obviously. As far as eras in world history, however, I feel a special attachment to this one—it was one of my favorites by far to teach, because it's just so phenomenally fascinating and significant to everything else that happened in the 20th century. I grew up attending Memorial Day services at Stow Cemetery, first as the daughter of the band director and later as a member of the band, and I always looked forward to the sense of formality and quiet and honor that was always present. I successfully lured many of my GFH kids to Highland Cemetery's Memorial Day service with the promise of extra credit and was always thrilled when they admitted it was worth their time to attend. Once, a WWI veteran attended and I watched a handful of students transform from extra-credit seekers to history students in awe of someone so....old, someone who had seen so much, so long ago.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In every Memorial Day service I've ever attended, someone has read the classic WWI poem In Flanders Fields. It never fails to send chills up my spine, this perfect poem published by John McCrae in 1915. I get that Memorial Day is about all Americans who have served in wars, but to me, it is especially about WWI, and those people who thought that the war they were fighting was so horrific that there would be no more war.
And now there are almost no more of them. Just Frank Buckles.