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Under my hat: Losing touch with the past

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    Re-enactor Bob Mischak of Edwardsville demonstrates vintage weapons at the Tamaqua Heritage Festival in October. Those who devote themselves to preserving history appear to be dwindling in number. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published December 15. 2018 07:50AM


We’re living in a time of transition.

The old guard is dying off, and with it our connection to the past.

For the first time, there were no survivors on hand at the Arizona Memorial on Dec. 7 to commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The few still living are in their 90s. Health issues, understandably, are taking a toll.

Veterans are a precious, fleeting commodity. When they’re gone, we lose our association with major events that shaped our world and helped to define society.

I notice the trend every year during the various Veterans Day observances, where numbers are dwindling.

Years ago, the biggest parades honored our military heroes.

I remember, as a kid, waving to veterans of the Spanish-American War as they rode on the backs of convertibles in town parades. But that’s history.

I can’t recall when the final one disappeared locally. But it was a long time ago.

Nationally, the last was Jones Morgan. He passed away in Richmond, Virginia, in 1993 at almost 111 years old.

It’s interesting to reflect on such things. Within the past 20 years or so, we’ve lost many war heroes.

Research says the last living veteran of World War I wasn’t an American. She was Florence Green of Great Britain, who served in the Allied armed forces. She died in 2012, aged 110.

As for our American doughboys, they’re all gone. According to Wikipedia, the last was Frank Buckles of West Virginia, who died in 2011. He enlisted in the Army at age 16 in 1917 to be an ambulance driver. His story is fascinating.

He was turned down by the Marines because he was too small and by the Navy because he had flat feet. After the Armistice in 1918, he escorted German POWs back to Germany. He was discharged in 1919. He then worked in shipping as a civilian and was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942. He spent the rest of the war in civilian prison camps.

Buckles spent his last days appealing to the American public to create a World War I memorial in Washington, D.C. He lived to age 110, but, sadly, didn’t live long enough to see the memorial. It won’t be finished until, perhaps, 2021.

As for the Civil War, Albert Henry Woolson was the last surviving member of the Union Army and the last Civil War veteran on either side whose status is undisputed, according to Wikipedia.

Here’s an incredible bit of trivia. Hard to believe, but true.

The last surviving widow of a Civil War Confederate soldier — and whose marriage produced offspring — died just 14 years ago. Alberta Stewart of Alabama married 81-year-old veteran William Martin when she was 21. She died on June 1, 2004, in a nursing home.

These are fascinating stories, yet I’m not sure the younger generations are interested.

And the older folks are dwindling.

During the Tamaqua Heritage Festival in October, I spoke with miliary re-enactor Bob Mischak of Edwardsville. For decades he performed with the Military Timeline Encampment, a group displaying and demonstrating vintage firearms and weapons.

This time, he was alone.

“Where are the other members of your group,” I asked.

“They’re gone,” he said. “The group dissolved.” I felt sorry to hear it.

It wasn’t that they lost interest. It’s just that they’ve grown older, said Mischak. It’s inevitable. Those still with us are dealing with other matters. Life happens.

But the sad part is we can’t seem to replace re-enactors and those with a passion for history.

What this means is that we’re losing not only veterans, but also those interested in preserving their stories.

And when that happens, we will have lost far too much.


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