The Last Survivor

Many of our readers may have seen the news that the last USS Arizona survivor has passed. The historian Alex Kershaw offered some perceptive thoughts in this post. It is yet another marker showing that the World War II generation is indeed passing from the scene.

As I read Kershaw’s post, it occurred to me that the World War II generation could have written something similar about the Civil War generation. The 1939 GAR reunion ended on September 1 of that year, the day Germany invaded Poland to start World War II. The last GAR reunion was 1949, and the final veteran passed in 1956.

I invite you to reflect on his words for both generations.

11 Responses to The Last Survivor

  1. What about the other side of the war? When was the last UCV reunion? That was, after all, half of the Civil War generation.

      1. Ha, yes, apparently. That never made sense to me. If the opposing side didn’t exist, or their service and performance wasn’t brave, noteworthy, praiseworthy, or at a minimum skilled, then what does that say about the Union side? Must have been a cakewalk, performance unworthy of praise, as if they’d been opposed by infants.

  2. Albert Woolson died in 1956, known as the last Union veteran. He had attended GAR reunions in the past and was well-known, the last Confederate veteran is less certain, because the last three purported Confederate veterans were essentially debunked. Whether intentionally or not, they had mis-represented their ages. The last purported Confederate veteran was Walter Williams who died in 1958. His passing was national news, receiving letters from all over the country and notice from the US Army, historians such as Bruce Catton, Frank Vandiver and the US president.

    The old veterans received a lot of attention in their later years. They were sent letters and post cards from everywhere. Congress passed a law allowing Confederate veterans burials at government expense. They were offered free meals. There was some temptation to exaggerate their lives and claim a veteran status they did not rightly own. Not too different from today.

    1. Thanks for the explanation, Tom. That ambiguity is why I took the approach in the post that I did.

    2. Speaking of that, a couple of my ancestors’ VA-supplied headstones dating from the 1930s need replacing. I’ve never done this before, am I going to get resistance to applying for their headstones, their being Confederates? They’re located on church burial grounds so I’ll need to discuss it with them first anyway.

      1. I have not looked at the statute in some time, but as I recall, it applied to Confederate veterans – but IIRC, the statute did not say they would pay for burials anywhere – only in what later became known as national military cemeteries.

    3. Thanks. But I didn’t mean burial, I meant just the tombstone, which is one of the old VA tombstones. I’m assuming they would provide a replacement for one of their own stones. As far as I know veterans get just the stone, not payment for burial (I’m going to go one day, and I’m assuming I’ll get a stone courtesy of the VA, but no $ toward my funeral).

      1. You should be able to put in for a headstone without a problem. If you go to a number of cemeteries you’ll see Confederate soldiers with modern U.S. military style headstones put up under this law. Do a google search and you’ll find some local historical groups who have gotten new headstones put up. There is one in Georgetown, TX that I’ve talked to and they are on YouTube. They might can give you some advice.

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