The Last of the Doughboys
In 2003, 85 years after the armistice, it took Richard Rubin months to find just one living American veteran of World War One. But then he found another. And another. Eventually he managed to find dozens, aged 101 to 113, and interview them. All are gone now.
A decade long odyssey to recover the story of a forgotten generation and their Great War led Rubin across the United States and France, through archives, private collections, battlefields, literature, propaganda, and even music. But at the center of it all were the last of the last, the men and women he met: a new immigrant, drafted and sent to France, whose life was saved by a horse; a Connecticut Yankee who volunteered and fought in every major American battle; a Cajun artilleryman nearly killed by a German aeroplane; an 18 year old Bronx girl "drafted" to work for the War Department; the 16 year old who became America's last World War One veteran; and many, many more.
They were the final survivors of the millions who made up the American Expeditionary Forces, 19th Century men and women living in the 21st Century. Self-reliant, humble, and stoic, they kept their stories to themselves for a lifetime, then shared them at the last possible moment, so that they, and the World War they won -- the trauma that created our modern world -- might at last be remembered. You will never forget them. 'The Last of the Doughboys' is more than simply a war story: it is a moving meditation on character, grace, aging, and memory.
"Gloriously colorful...A wonderfully engaging study executed with a lot of heart."
- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Affecting...Give[s] fresh texture to what's already known. Rubin is skillful in his interviewing, remorseless in his efforts to chase down his subjects, thoughtful of their age...He has brought them back to life. His book is a fitting epitaph to brave men too often overlooked."
- Publishers Weekly
"Fascinating and deeply moving...An important and masterful tribute to those who participated in a conflict that continues to shape the world today."
"An outstanding and fascinating book. By tracking down the last surviving veterans of the First World War and interviewing them with sympathy and skill, Richard Rubin has produced a first-rate work of reporting. Almost a hundred years after the event, he makes that immensely consequential and partly forgotten war as alive as twenty minutes ago." — Ian Frazier, New Yorker contributor and author of Travels in Siberia
"Richard Rubin has written the most riveting and astonishing book about World War I that I have read in a decade. No matter what you think about that terrible conflict, this book will lift up your heart, not only about the war but about being an American. It's unique!" —Thomas Fleming, author of The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I
"From its boffo, page-length first sentence situating the First World War in American memory (‘before the Band-Aid and nylon and the ballpoint pen and sliced bread’) to its moving concluding portrait of Frank Buckles (1901-2011),’the last of the last’ of the doughboys, this book makes irresistible reading. A fusion of reportage, memoir, and history, The Last of the Doughboys is a work of learning, wit, and compassion." — Jack Beatty, author of The Lost History of 1914
"The Last of the Doughboys is a fascinating account of the American experience of World War I and the astonishing power of memory: oral memory, literary memory, and the collective memory of monuments and cemeteries. Actually, it is not the Korean War but World War I that is truly the forgotten war in American culture, but Richard Rubin brings it to life, etched with great narrative richness." — Gerald Early, Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, Washington University in St. Louis
"Richard Rubin has performed an extraordinary feat of World War I sleuthing. He has managed to track down numerous centenarians — centenarians! — who fought in the trenches and has skillfully resurrected their memories in a way that brings that now sepia-toned conflict into focus as sharp as a bayonet. Rubin refers to these doughboys as 'the forgotten generation.' Yet he brings them back unforgettably. And his book is addictively readable." — Joseph E. Persico, author of Roosevelt's Centurions: FDR and the Commanders He Led to Victory in World War II
"Richard Rubin has done something that will never be possible for anyone to do again. His interviews with the last American World War I veterans — who have all since died — bring to vivid life a cataclysm that changed our world forever but that remains curiously forgotten here. And his research and battlefield visits help us picture the background to the survivors' stories." — Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918
"My namesake was a great-uncle who faked his age and enlisted in the Army as a teenager — shipping off to France and fighting in World War I, where he was wounded and gassed. I cherish his Purple Heart. And I remember long conversations with him as he thought back on his experiences, by turns horrific and comic. Now, in an extraordinary work that combines oral history and personal reporting, Richard Rubin relates his encounters with the last survivors of that war, centenarians all —the ‘forgotten generation,’ as he calls them. The Last of the Doughboys is a book that puts Rubin’s trademark style on display: it is deeply researched, shrewdly observed, and warmly humane." — Cullen Murphy, editor-at-large, Vanity Fair
"Richard Rubin's The Last of the Doughboys is more than just a collection of memories. It is a moving tribute — a final salute — to a generation of men who gave their all to win the war that would, they hoped, end all wars. This intimately written book will stand at the forefront of World War I literature for many years to come." — Edward G. Lengel, author of To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918
"Richard Rubin's vivid and lively interviews with the last surviving veterans of World War I have preserved the voices and memories of the men who fought the nation's first modern war. It is an important contribution to history, an act of historical justice to soldiers whose achievements and sufferings are seldom remembered, and a fascinating view of history through the eyes of those that made it." — Richard Slotkin, author of Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality
"Richard Rubin's brilliant The Last of the Doughboys is a living, breathing monument to an almost criminally unsung generation of American heroes — and a vivid and richly detailed portrayal of their era and their war. Beautifully and knowledgably written, the book ensures that the doughboys' achievements on the battlefields of World War I, as well as at home, will never again be forgotten." — James Carl Nelson, author of The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War and Five Lieutenants