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Monday, November 21, 2005

Last soldier of the "Christmas Truce" has passed away

Alfred Anderson, the last known British soldier who partook in the "Christmas Truce" of World War I, has died at the age of 109.

On December 25, 1914, an unofficial truce broke out between the British and German soldiers along the western front. The two warring armies laid down their arms and met each other in the no man's land that separated the opposing trenches. They drank together, gave each other cigarettes, traded tunic buttons, sang Christmas carols together, even played soccer. In some places along the front the truce lasted for a few days. And then the commanders on both sides ordered their men to start fighting each other again. But for a little while, there really had been peace on Earth and goodwill toward men...

Alfred Anderson may very well have been the last man who could remember what happened that day 91 years ago. His death leaves only ten British veterans of the Great War still with us. Of the more than two million American doughboys who fought in the conflict, there are roughly 50 left and possibly even less than that. Their numbers dwindle with each passing year.

More than 16 million men and women served in the United States armed forces by the time World War II drew to a close. Of those, only a quarter or so are with us still. It is estimated that we are losing our World War II veterans now at the rate of about one thousand per day.

I read a few days ago that of the 705 survivors of the Titanic, only three of them - all women - are still alive.

It is estimated that there are approximately one million survivors of the Holocaust in the world today. Many of them live in Israel and the United States.

I know that I must be realistic, and acknowledge that none of us are meant to linger forever. And I do have faith that there is something much more that is awaiting us beyond this realm of crude matter... something wonderful, even. But as a historian it does sadden me terribly, knowing that one by one those who have connected us to some of the most significant events of the twentieth century are being taken from this world and into eternity.

Alfred Anderson, wherever you are: you've earned a good rest. Welcome home, soldier.

EDIT: I found a GREAT website that has full-color photographs from World War I! Check out www.greatwar.nl for some really vivid images of the war.