By John Ostapkovich
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Korean conflict has been called the “Forgotten War” but in many respects World War I was forgotten first and longer. A Penn grad’s new book aims to bring the conflict alive using the voices of those who fought.
The last American World War I veteran died two years ago, which Richard Rubin says is why he spent ten years hurrying to interview those who were left.
“To me, always, the most important thing was that these people’s voices be preserved and heard,” Rubin said. “That drove everything else that I did in the book, but, of course, they were eyewitnesses and participants, but not historians.”
So the book “The Last of the Doughboys” presents the big picture and small, the statistics of thousands killed in a battle with a vignette of an officer’s inexplicable order to retrieve an unexploded artillery shell from a tree.
Rubin says The Great War needs to be remembered:
“It changed us forever and to a great extent we changed the world forever with what we did in World War I.”
Rubin adds the War lit the fuse on social change here as women and African-Americans found new roles:
“It was the first time African-Americans were sent overseas to fight in France, a country that, at the time, was relatively color-blind, certainly relative to the United States, and it gave people the taste for being treated with equality.”
Rubin says the War was largely forgotten, as the British minimized our efforts, and the Depression and World War II completed the collective amnesia.