Today, Veterans Day, was originally established as a holiday to mark the day that World War I ended and, until 1954, went by the name Armistice Day.
Ninety years have passed since hostilities ceased at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eighteenth year of the twentieth century. At the moment of ceasefire, over 50 million men and women were living that had served in the armed forces of the nations involved in the conflict; around 10 million, on both sides, had died between 1914 and 1918.
Today, seven men from that number are known to be alive. (The last woman who took part in the war died in August – Gladys Powers, who served as a nurse for Great Britain.) Three of these are British (including 112-year-old Henry Allingham, the last founding member of the Royal Air Force); one served in the Australian army; another served in the British army and emigrated to Australia; and another served in the Canadian army and emigrated to the United States.
The seventh, Frank Buckles, who served as an ambulance driver at the age of 17 in the Allied Expeditionary Force, is the last American veteran of “the war to end all wars,” living in Charles Town, West Virginia – less than an hour’s drive from Arlington National Cemetery, to which he traveled today to lay a wreath at the grave of Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of American forces on the Western front. In a recent interview he noted that his family tended toward longevity – two of his aunts living to be over 100 – and commented, “I knew that I was going to be one of the last veterans of the war, but I never expected that I would be the last one.”
On his trip to Arlington, the old soldier was accompanied by David DeJonge, a photographer who has been capturing the images of the last veterans of the war in recent years.