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Vanishing generations story emulated at home

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ST. CLOUD — American Author Richard Rubin spoke at St. Cloud State University on April 8 about his new book, “The Last of the Doughboys, The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War.”

Rubin’s work, which took nearly 10 years to complete, encompassed the memories and experiences of the few remaining American World War I veterans in their own words.

“Most people will ask how is it possible to forget a generation; forgetting is our default setting, it comes easier than remembering,” said Rubin.

The presentation, held at the Miller Auditorium at St. Cloud State University, began with a dramatic narrative by students and faculty on life at the St. Cloud Normal School during the war year. The school’s news paper, The Recorder, published letters, stories and facts about the young men and women who joined in their nation’s struggle between 1917 and 1919.

“By 1919 the number of students and faculty reached 233. Back home in St. Cloud, students and the community got behind the war effort with YMCA Gardens, pageants and education programs about our people overseas,” said Dr. Karen Thoms of St. Cloud State’s Learning Resources Services Office.

Though only 19 months of involvement in the Great War, the loss of nearly 117,000 men affected the American people across the country. PTSD, or shell shock as it was called at that time, educated the public to the horrors of modern combat. The reaction to this epidemic was to engage in distractions from the war issues.

“It was a terribly traumatic experience, and afterwards America withdrew into itself,” added Rubin. “Because of this, their stories were lost.”

One such story that disappeared from American history was the loss of Capt. Elijah W. Worsham, killed in action in the Argonne Forest on Sept. 29, 1918. He was the commander of a machine gun company, 326th Infantry, 82nd Division. His story was lost for nearly 90 years before a private in the captain’s unit recalled the captain’s name to the author. Rubin’s interview with Pvt. William Lake at the age of 107 led to recovery of several forgotten stories which detailed the valorous actions of the Captain during the battle.

“At some time or another each of us has the chance to rescue something from oblivion and cherish it for future generations,” said Rubin.