2011 marked the passing of America’s last surviving World War I ‘doughboy’ when Frank Buckles died at age 110.  The last surviving ‘Great War’ veteran from any nation, Florence Green of Britain, passed away just this year.

It is both sad and fascinating to think that the collective memory of an entire generation of veterans, nearly five million American soldiers in this case, is gone forever.  In war more than almost all other events, the participants witness and contribute to the shaping of history.  They also experience terrible events that, only by fortune, those of us born in another time or place do not.  World War I veterans, for instance, were subjected to many new technological developments such as flame-throwers, tanks, airplanes, and poison gas.  Americans also participated for the first time on a large scale in a war entirely on foreign soil; this in an era when any kind of overseas travel was rare and exotic to the average citizen.  Imagine how poignant and dominating these experiences were to the young men and women of their generation, shaping their lives in ways that we can try to understand but only the participants truly knew.

At this time, the number of surviving veterans of America’s next major wars, World War II and Korea, are rapidly dwindling, with the youngest of them presently in their mid-eighties and late seventies, respectively.  Within the next quarter of a century, they too shall pass.  It is imperative that we honor and listen to our veterans while they are still here to share their memories firsthand.

Following is a list of the longest-surviving veterans of America’s major wars up through World War I, and their date of passing:

American Revolution (1775-83):  Daniel F. Bakeman, died 4/5/1869, age 109

War of 1812 (1812-1815):  Hiram Cronk, died 5/13/1905, age 105

Mexican War (1846-1848): Owen Thomas Edgar, died 9/3/1929, age 98

American Civil War (1861-1865):  Albert Woolson, died 8/2/1956, age 109

Spanish-American War (1898): Nathan E. Cook, died 9/10/1992, age 106

World War I (1916-1918): Frank Buckles, died 2/27/2011, age 110