Lazare Ponticelli died today. At 110 years old, he was the last surviving poilu in France.
He went to France from Italy when he was nine years old. In 1914, when he was only 16, he lied about his age and enlisted in the French Foreign Legion.
I do not know for certain where he served, but I know that his passing brings us one step closer to a time when there will be no more living veterans of La Grande Guerre. The world will be a poorer place.
There will be no more living reminders of the trenches in western Europe, of the villages which literally disappeared beneath artillery bombardments which lasted for days. Of the gardens that the soldiers of all the armies planted to try to bring some beauty back into their lives. Who will remind us of these things when everyone who lived through them is gone?
Will we forget? Have we already forgotten? Sometimes I think that we have. After all, the same divisions which exploded in 1914 are still with us today. Rampant nationalism, ethnic and religious differences blown out of all proportion, economies which stagger every time the wind blows, middle and lower classes who feel squeezed and threatened from all sides.
I have no answers to my questions. They make me feel sad and frustrated, they make it difficult to sleep sometimes. All I have is hope, which is a strange thing for a cynic to say. Hope, and a determination not to forget.
Mr. Ponticelli recently agreed to being given a state funeral “in the name of all those who died, men and women.”
I wish I could be there.
Au revoir M. Ponticelli. J’espère que le monde n’oublie pas vos sacrifices et votre courage.