Yesterday, February 27, was a day where the nation lost two significant public figures, one who had no desire to be, and one who was in the headlines for many years.
Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, which he entered at age 16 in 1917, passed away within a month after his 110th birthday. He sought no fame, but testified before Congress last year for a World War I Memorial on the level of the Vietnam, Korean, and World War II Memorials already on the Washington Mall, to honor veterans of those wars.
Buckles never actually came close to war duty itself, being at least 30 miles from the war trenches in France, but he came to represent the nearly five million Americans who served in World War I, and the two million who actually went off to the war front.
He became nationally known in 2007, when he was named grand marshal of the National Memorial Day parade in Washington, DC. He also was a guest at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day 2007 for a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. He also was honored by Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon, and met with President George W. Bush at the White House in 2008.
He was a prisoner of war in the Philippines in World War II, due to his work for a shipping company in Manila, and the seizure of that country by the Japanese, surviving 38 months of harsh imprisonment and finally freed by an American rescue mission.
Buckles will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with a traditional white marble headstone, the last living memory of the Great War, the war to end all wars, which did no such thing, regrettably.
Also passing away was a famous baseball slugger, Duke Snider of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, one of the favorite players of the author as a child growing up in New York City, and being a fan of “dem Bums”!
Snider had to compete with Willie Mays of the New York Giants and Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees as a center fielder, and was often thought to be just number three when compared to them, but to many, he was simply “the Duke”!
Snider had 40 or more home runs five straight years, something not achieved by Mays or Mantle. He helped the Dodgers to win their only World Series in Brooklyn in 1955, and was seen as the super star of the team, even as compared to Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Carl Furillo, and Carl Erskine, among others.
Snider managed to hit 407 home runs lifetime, batted .300 or better seven times, had a lifetime batting average of .295, and had over 2,000 hits, and was among the leaders in runs batted in numerous times.
With his death, the last significant player on the old Brooklyn Dodgers has passed away, age 84, and makes the Dodgers truly a part of history, just as much as Frank Buckles’s death marks the true end of World War I for America!
This is a sad time for those who realize how history has truly taken over, not only with Buckles and Snider, but also last month with the death of Sargent Shriver, marking the true end of the Kennedy Presidency and its entrance into history, much the same as the First World War and the Brooklyn Dodgers!
Nice connections about the passing of history. I think these kinds of things mean a lot for the study of public memory. As those who experiened something pass away, events and institutions become only available through popular narratives of them, which makes it all the more important that counternarratives to the broad stories and meanings are documented and maintained so that World War I, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Kennedy administration, etc. don’t become too uncontested in their symbolism.
That said, I’d argue that while the last of the Hall of Famers from those Brooklyn Dodger teams of the 1940s-1950 has passed away, we do still have some important players still us, including Carl Erskine, Ralph Branca, and Don Newcombe. Technically, Sandy Koufax could be counted as well, though he really wasn’t a significant part of the Brooklyn part of the Dodgers history.