Le Monde is reporting that one of the last two surviving French veterans of World War I has died:
Louis de Cazenave, l'un des deux derniers poilus de la première guerre mondiale, est décédé, dimanche 20 janvier, à l'âge de 110 ans, a annoncé le ministère des anciens combattants. L'information a ensuite été confirmée par son fils à l'antenne de France Info. M. de Cazenave est mort dans la matinée à son domicile de Brioude, dans la Haute-Loire. Il sera inhumé mardi.
Louis de Cazenave, one of the last two poilus of the First World War, died Sunday, 20 January, at the age of 110 years, announced the Minister of Former Soldiers. The information was later confirmed by his son on France Info. M. de Cazenave died in the morning at his home in Brioude, in the Haute-Loire. He will be buried on Tuesday.
The story goes on to say that de Cazenave was the eldest of the surviving French veterans, born almost two months earlier than the last remaining veteran, a Mr. Lazare Ponticelli. De Cazenave joined a Senegalese colonial regiment in 1916 and fought with it until September 1917, taking part in the Second Battle of the Aisne, along the "Chemin des Dames," where ultimately nearly 100,000 French soldiers gave their lives in the course of nine days, nearly half of those casualties coming on the first day of the battle.
I must confess to being a little torn by the sentiments expressed by MM de Cazenave and Ponticelli against the idea of a state funeral for the last of the poilus. I doubt their fallen comrades would think it presumptuous of them--and it would make some small amends for the generally shabby way that WWI veterans were often treated when they came back home--particularly if they were wounded or handicapped. (And, as the final sentences of the linked article from Le Monde make clear, huge numbers of them were: WWI claimed a total of 9 million dead, all told, and 20 million wounded--half of whom were disfigured.) On the other hand, it's entirely in character that they should refuse the honor due them.
Sadder still than this death is the fact that hardly anyone remembers the Great War, the war that was supposed to end all wars, anymore. Its brutality, futility, and senseless slaughter were superseded by those of the war that followed it just a generation later. World War II and its veterans have become somewhat iconic in late 20th- and early 21st-century culture. They were the "Greatest Generation," fighting in the last "good" war. And now those veterans, too, are dying off in their thousands each day. It won't be much longer before we won't have any living links to those days, either--a situation we are very likely to encounter with regard to its predecessor war before too many more years pass.