In 2003, 85 years after the armistice, it took Richard Rubin months to find just one living American veteran of World War I. 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, and 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; a machine-gunner from Montana; a Marine wounded at Belleau Wood; the 16-year-old who became America’s last WWI veteran; and many, many more.
They were the final survivors of the millions who made up the American Expeditionary Forces, nineteenth-century men and women living in the twenty-first 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.
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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. Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914 1918
In 2003, 85 years after the end of World War I, Richard Rubin set out to see if he could still find and talk to someone who had actually served in the American Expeditionary Forces during that colossal conflict. Ultimately, he found dozens, aged 101 to 113, from Cape Cod to Carson City, who shared with him at the last possible moment their stories of America s Great War. Nineteenth-century men and women living in the twenty-first century, they were self-reliant, humble, and stoic, never complaining, but still marveling at the immensity of the war they helped win, and the complexity of the world they helped create. Though America has largely forgotten their war, you will never forget them, or their stories. A decade in the making, The Last of the Doughboys is the most sweeping look at America s First World War in a generation, a glorious reminder of the tremendously important role America played in the war to end all wars, as well as a moving meditation on character, grace, aging, and memory.
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. Ian Frazier, author of Travels in Siberia
I cannot remember a book about that huge and terrible war that I have enjoyed reading more in many years." Michael Korda, The Daily Beast
[AU PHOTO] RICHARD RUBIN is the author of Confederacy of Silence. In addition to the Atlantic and the New York Times Magazine, he has written for The New Yorker, Smithsonian, New York, and Parade.
Richard Rubin is the author of Confederacy of Silence. He has written for the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Smithsonian, and New York magazine. He lives in New York and Maine. Learn more about Richard Rubin at thelastofthedoughboys.com or follow him on twitter @LastDoughboys.
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