The Great War at 100

100 years ago: very few people can say they were alive, and even fewer can admit to remembering much of anything from 1914, in the late summer. Women still could not vote. America’s veteran population consisted of men who fought in the Civil War and the Spanish American War. Wrigley Field was in its fledgling year, hosting a new Chicago baseball team called the Cubs. And on this day in 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofie, were assassinated while in Serbia by a Slavic nationalist, which started World War One.

100 years later, armchair quarterbacks go over the strategies of the 32 countries who all found themselves involved in The Great War. But what resonates most strongly with people who study this very pivotal period in history is the personal affects that remain: the151 letters, the uniforms, the medals and lapel pins earned through bravery and teamwork. Because while the decisions made during the heat of battle continue to effect our current world relations, for the average American like you and me, it’s the personal connections we can make to this far distant history that really help us understand what World War One was all about.

Over 65 million men fought in World War One from all over the world, with and against each other. As of 2008, the last surviving veteran of World War One passed away, an American man named Frank Buckles. He’d joined the army at 16 by claiming he had no birth certificate, only the family bible, to denote his birth, and therefore couldn’t prove he was or wasn’t 18, which he was hoping recruiters believed he was. He also fought in World War Two before settling down to raise a family in West Virginia. His legacy is kept alive through his grandchildren and great grandchildren, and the mementos he left behind. And for the millions of men who perhaps otherwise never would have had their life recorded or remembered in any way (this was long before social media and phone/cameras) are forever memorialized through the honors they earned in the war, and the medals, lapel pins and lives they touched during The Great War.

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