The last doughboy passes
Frank Buckles, the last U.S. World War I veteran, died in his home of natural causes early Sunday morning.
February 28th, 2011
02:00 AM ET

The last doughboy passes

CNN Senior National Editor Dave Schechter has written extensively about World War I veterans. He filed this blog post after learning of the death of the war's last U.S. veteran:

I never met Frank Buckles, the last American veteran of World War I, who died at 110-years-old in his sleep early Sunday at his farm in West Virginia.

Nonetheless, I feel a loss because over the past 20-plus years I was drawn into a small community of people who kept track of the dwindling numbers of American veterans of “The War To End All Wars.”

My professional interest began many years ago when my wife, then a producer at CNN, worked on a project about centenarians and brought home the newspaper of an organization for World War I veterans and their families. On the personal side, my mother’s father trained as a pilot at Kelly Field in Texas but never deployed, while my father’s father served in the American Expeditionary Force in Europe, likely inhaled poison gas and served as the allied military’s legal authority in a sector of Germany (an experience he wrote about for The Sunday New York Times Magazine).

Among those most keenly devoted to the surviving doughboys has been David DeJonge, a portrait photographer from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who devoted countless hours to photographing World War I veterans and bringing attention to their stories. In recent years, DeJonge accompanied Buckles to the White House, the Pentagon, the Capitol and a small, tree-shrouded memorial to the World War I troops from the District of Columbia on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Others with this particular bent have included a now-retired employee of the Veterans Administration, who patiently answered my questions when it came time for my annual note on the numbers of living veterans from America’s wars; the woman who worked for another federal agency full-time but who, on her own time, ran that organization for WWI veterans until their ranks were reduced to only a few dozen; and the radio producer from Texas, who recorded interviews with several of the last survivors for a public radio special narrated by Walter Cronkite.

DeJonge is among those publicly advocating creation on the National Mall of a national memorial to World War I. Just last week in West Virginia, he announced creation of the National World War I Legacy Project, which will  include a documentary DeJonge is producing about Buckles titled “Pershing’s Last Patriot.”  Buckles, who enlisted at 16 and saw duty in England, France and Germany, took this cause seriously, wanting recognition not for himself but for all of those who served in that conflict.

I have written before that if we honor those who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam on the National Mall, then similar recognition is due those of the 20th century’s first major war.

After years of decay, at long last the existing monument to the World War I troops from the District of Columbia is being cleaned up. To create a national monument, I’d like to see it expanded, perhaps with figures of soldiers peering over a trench, bayonets fixed and gas masks at the ready, ready to charge over the top.

Unfortunately, Frank Buckles did not live long enough, not even nine decades after the war ended, to see honor properly paid to his comrades. Now that he has passed, let that honor be paid in memory of this patriot.

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Filed under: History • Military • Veterans • War
Wisconsin law requires teaching of history of organized labor
Protesters rally against a bill that would cut public workers' collective bargaining rights.
February 25th, 2011
01:39 PM ET

Wisconsin law requires teaching of history of organized labor

Public school teachers have been among the loudest voices protesting inside and outside the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison over Gov. Scott Walker's proposals for dealing with the state’s budget problems - specifically his legislation to limit public workers' collective bargaining rights.

Here’s a piece of irony: Wisconsin law requires that public school students be taught the history of organized labor. The kids certainly are getting a real-time lesson in the subject.

Some teachers who left their classrooms and hit the bricks in defense of their ability to organize and negotiate contracts likely are those who teach the history of the labor movement to students in those same classrooms.

Wisconsin Assembly Bill 172, passed by Democrat-controlled state legislature, was signed into law by then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, in December 2009.

The law requires teachers to include instruction in “the history of organized labor and the collective bargaining process.”

The state’s Department of Public Instruction website reads: “Wisconsin has long been a leader in labor rights. The Progressive Movement, which had its beginnings in our state, led to laws limiting child labor and safety in the workplace. Unions such as the AFL-CIO and Teamsters allow us to enjoy an eight-hour work week and vacation time. In fact, it has been argued by some historians that the history of the United States itself could be a history of labor.”  The DPI site notes that the law made Wisconsin the first state in the nation to include the history of organized labor as part of state standards for teaching social studies.

Teachers are referred to websites for the Educational Communications Board Surf Report on Labor History, Wisconsin Historical Society Labor Collections and Wisconsin Labor History Society.

The Wisconsin Labor History Society offers teachers outlines to help them present the subject. “Workers and unions helped to make our nation great and to create our standard of living, with top wages and benefits for all workers. There were many struggles facing workers in reaching these goals. This presentation will discuss some of those struggles and identify the major gains of early workers and their unions. ...

Today, the United States is the richest country on earth. By most standards, U.S. earnings permit the vast majority of us to enjoy the highest standards of living. Most families have cars, sometimes two or three, televisions, refrigerators and their children have access to boom boxes, CDs, computers and cell phones.”

Back in April 2009, when then-historical society President Kenneth Germanson testified before the state legislature in support of the bill, he recounted the contributions by organized labor to American society. “But who is aware of this today?” Germanson asked. “Very few persons, and it’s a result of an education system that has overlooked a key part of American history. It’s precisely this omission that AB 172 seeks to overcome.”

Some politically conservative blogs are now calling to repeal AB 172.

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Filed under: Education • History • Labor • Politics • Protest • Wisconsin