While over the last few years two or three people thought to be the last surviving veterans of World War I - the war to end wars - have passed on, it now appears as though the absolute last veteran of the tens of millions who served in World War I has died. And that veteran was a woman.
Florence Green died in her native England two weeks ago, just a couple of weeks shy of her 111th birthday. Ms. Green was a member of Britain's Royal Air Force, though she served on the ground working in an officer's mess on the home front. Ms. Green would have gone completely unheralded if not for the work of a researcher who unearthed her service records in 2010 while digging through Britain's National Archives.
I am old enough to remember several World War I veterans quite well. When I was in high school our principal - at least for some of those years - was a retired Army lieutenant colonel named Patrick W. Laurie. Mr. Laurie, who over the years became one of my father's closest friends, was very patriotic and never missed an opportunity to expose the students at Noel High School to the military. One time he marched the entire high school, maybe a hundred and twenty-five students, down to the Kansas City Southern Depot to stand and show respect as the casket of a Vietnam Veteran was taken off the train.
Another time Mr. Laurie brought in M. Waldo Hatler to speak to the student body in an assembly. Mr. Hatler, a resident of Neosho, had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in Europe during the First World War. The poor man was bent and frail and could barely speak above a whisper, but the point was that Mr. Laurie wanted us to see a Medal of Honor winner and to realize just how special those people were.
One of our regular substitute teachers in high school was A. Dean Scott. Mr. Scott had been the school's principal many year's before and his wife was probably the best cook in the history of the school. When Mr. Scott came to substitute, one of my ornery friends would invariably ask, "Mr. Scott, do you know anything about trench warfare in World War I?" Usually we would spend the remainder of the hour enjoying Mr. Scott's stories about his service in the war - and avoiding our school work!
In the late 1970's while I was teaching high school history, I would often have my students make special reports or presentations. One of those that I remember best was two girls, sisters, who took a tape recorder and interviewed several of the very last surviving World War I veterans in Howell County, Missouri. It was then that I began to realize just how quickly those guys were passing into history.
Now it looks as if they finally all have gone on, and anyone wanting information on the war to end wars will have to Google it - or head to the library. There will be no more new first-hand accounts from those who served.