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The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten…

af Richard Rubin

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20711103,868 (4.24)25
In 2003, 85 years after the armistice, Rubin managed to find dozens of American veterans of World War I, aged 101 to 113, and interview them. All are gone now. They were the final survivors of the millions who made up the American Expeditionary Forces. 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, might at last be remembered.… (mere)
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The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World by Richard Rubin is a history of World War I with an interesting feature. He interviewed all the living World War I veterans could find which was quite a limited set of people; all over one hundred years old. The interviews took place in 2003 and since then the last remaining veteran has passed on. In between the interviews Rubin gives the reader a history lesson. Although most readers familiar with World War I will know most of the information, there are a few items that might be new or obscure.

The book opens with France's Jacques Chirac awarding all the World War I American veterans who served in France the Légion d'honneur in 1998. The French did the research and that research gave Rubin his start in the project. The interviews cover the branches of services and jobs from infantry, artillery, messengers, drivers, and engineers. What is is surprising is the reasons people joined. Reasons from patriotism, adventure, no jobs, and an immigrant who was drafted. Except for being drafted, I remember hearing the same reasons back when I was in Marine Corps boot camp. Somethings do not change.

France was the major battle field of the war and although not militarily superior to German won the war, with help. French and German animosity has a long history which the United States and England did not share. At times during the war, especially the beginning, German and British troops fraternized. The most most famous incident was the 1914 Christmas truce. British and German troops had an unofficial “Live and let live” policy which included such things as firing over the trenches and not shelling food or supply trucks.

African American service in the war is covered. The navy had African-Americans serving for the most part because the navy was chronically short of personnel, although most served in the galley. The Marines had no racial integration. The army had separate units. African Americans could not be put in positions over whites so were usually put in separate units and many did not see combat. Army leadership preferred to use black units as work parties. The British declined to take black units, but the French gladly accepted them because the Germans feared the Senegalese soldiers and France figured a black American soldier might be as feared as a Senegalese soldier.

Other perhaps lesser known realities of the war are covered such as executions, the Sedition Act of 1918, the stupidity of frontal attacks against machine guns, Archangel, and Germany's concrete trenches and bunkers. France did not build permanent fortifications they believed and wanted to believe they would push the Germans out of France; permanent structures would have been a psychological defeat. Perhaps the most interesting piece of information for me concerns Belleau Woods. In Marine Corps history, this is probably only second in importance to the flag raising in Iwo Jima. It was where the Marines made their stand against the Germans and pushed them back. The French were so impressed with the actions of the Marines, Belleau Wood was renamed the Bois de la Brigade de Marine . American commander General Pershing said of the battle “The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.” Rubin writes something that Marine Corps history does not teach, that the army was also present at Belleau Wood. That bit of information was not made public until 1939.

Rubin presents an excellent history of World War I. It is not a complete history by any means but does something for the last time. It presents a first hand, personal accounts of several veterans that served in that war. That opportunity is now gone forever. World War I is indeed an interesting period and the voices of those who served only add to the effect. There is nothing quite like listening to an old veteran reminisce about his service and hat takes this book beyond being a very good history to being an excellent one. ( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
The First World War was ongoing one hundred years ago so there have been a lot of new histories released and old tomes re-published to capitalize on the attention, but "The Last of the Doughboys" really stands out. While Rubin provides enough history and context for someone who's unread or decades past their high school history classes, his focus is to connect the reader to the past through interviews with the last remaining American veterans of the Great War. A researcher can piece together artifacts from the era in an effort to create a picture, but there's nothing like getting points of view from those who were there to convey the true feeling of a time. Rubin also does an excellent job of highlighting interesting elements from each person's story, like the influence of music, the meaning of patriotism, the role of women, immigration, and state of racial inequality at the time. Rubin's conversational narrative makes the work approachable because he takes you along on this unique exploration and shares the challenges of capturing this last bit of light before it flickers out; the lives of these unique people, centenarians and supercentenarians who connect us to a war that ended several generations ago but the impact of which was long lasting. ( )
  traumleben | Jan 24, 2016 |
This book was definitely not what I expected. However, it was thoroughly engaging and filled some of the gaps from other books on why the American involvement in WWI was as it was.

This narrative was a combination of the real life stories of about a dozen 100+ yr. old WWI veterans - their successes and failures and what made then so unique. For example, one man walked to school everyday (2 miles) , then participated in the war, and on his return, married, got a job that he bicycled to 5 miles each way every day (rain, snow, didn't matter). Eventually he got a car, but at age 80 he could no longer drive so when his wife was placed in a nursing home a mile away from his home, he walked every day to have meals with her (3x a day no matter the weather). This stunned me. I remember hearing how my grandfather walked everywhere, but because we live in an age where we drive everywhere, it seems unfathomable.

Yes, this book showcased individuals, but it also showed me a great about the time and the differences that these brave men endured. ( )
  cyderry | Jun 22, 2015 |
This book attracted my attention because I had an uncle who had the misfortune to be gassed three times in France during WWI, sewn into a sack the last time and given up for dead. And knowing him in the 1940s helped to inspire me to write a book about the Italian Front of the Great War, When Ice Ran Red. I found Richard Rubin's The Last of the Doughboys a riveting page turner that revealed many interesting facts and details about the fighting that I've never come across before. Rubin has a singularly unique talent for coaxing older generations to talk. I heard him speak at our local library and project a heartwarming sincerity toward the real-life characters of his book. With any doubt Doughboys is a great read, and I believe is destined to become a classic. ( )
  Roger_Pepper | Dec 9, 2014 |
The First World War has been mostly forgotten in America. With the Great Depression and a Second World War coming soon after maybe few *wanted* to remember. The monuments and plaques have faded into the landscape and few remember anymore the places and streets that were named to honor those who served. An online search of my own town turned up only Pershing Square in downtown L.A., a grimy and graffiti-covered monument near the 10 freeway, and "Clover Field" (now known as Santa Monica Municipal Airport) named after a local boy killed in the war. Few people I talked to even knew American soldiers in that war were called "doughboys." And it's a shame, really.

Richard Rubin spent the last ten years tracking down every veteran of WWI who was still living that he could find - all of whom were over 100 years old and all of whom are gone now. Some served in combat, others drove ambulances or trucks or trained for duties which they never got to perform. A few never even made it overseas before the Armistice was declared. One even fought in Siberia. (Siberia?!?) While Rubin recounts the experiences "over there" of those he met and interviewed this is not a collection of mini-biographies of those two or three dozen veterans. Instead he fills in the details of what it was like to live at that time, what their lives were like growing up and following the war, and why they enlisted. I found myself cringing at some of the stories and laughing at others, feeling outraged at the discrimination a few experienced, and sorrowing at the human cost. And yet I also felt a great sense of pride at the heroic deeds and the unassuming way they rebuilt their lives following the war.

Rubin also talks of his experiences interviewing the "forgotten generation" - how the interviews went, what it's like to talk to centenarians (most were hard of hearing), and the old 78 rpm records and sheet music from that era he has collected. He also tells of his own visits to those battlefields and still finding the scars of that war: the trenches and bomb craters, old shell casings in freshly plowed fields, and the multitude of monuments that show the French haven't forgotten the Great War, or the role Americans played in it. I was surprised at these "asides" at first, but soon found they not only put events into context but added a richness and color to the narrative, bringing it to life and making that time so long ago more relatable. This book probably doesn't have the kind of battlefield depth and detail a scholarly historian would be looking for, but for the rest of us amateur historians who just like a good history I can't recommend it highly enough. ( )
1 stem J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
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In 2003, 85 years after the armistice, Rubin managed to find dozens of American veterans of World War I, aged 101 to 113, and interview them. All are gone now. They were the final survivors of the millions who made up the American Expeditionary Forces. 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, might at last be remembered.

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