“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
– George Santayana (1863 – 1952)
Lazare Ponticelli was laid to rest in France today after a memorial service with full military honors.
Who was Lazare Ponticelli?
He was the last surviving French WWI veteran.
My grandfather fought in WWI. He was 16 when he went off to fight, and he somehow made it out in one piece. (He then came out of WWII unscathed, which was impressive in and of itself.) WWI was still very much part of my cultural experience when I was a child. I played with WWI toy soldiers and dug little trenches for them in our back yard. The countryside was still scarred by the German artillery fierce barrages of lead and death. WWI veterans were everywhere in France. Old men with canes and thin ribbons on their lapels representing what medals they came home with – green or red, depending on whether it was the Croix De Guerre or the Legion D’Honneur. WWI veterans seemed to be part of the very landscape of France. Every village, town and city had them, and I think that we were better for it. They were a constant reminder of sacrifice and courage. They were a constant reminder that we could do better – and that we should strive to do better.
If we were too lazy to do it for ourselves, we at least owed it to the millions of young ment who walked to the battlefield and never walked out.
They were a constant reminder that there are things that we should never forget.
At any rate, though this has absolutely nothing to do with branding or marketing, I thought that Lazare’s passing was worthy of note. The last surviving French veteran of WWI was laid to rest today, and thus a page of history is truly turned.
Is there a point to this post? Yeah. There is. There are many points to this post, not the least of which is that this is the kind of news that could be completely missed by most of us – what with our busy self-important lives and all. Spending all day at work, rushing out to get the kids to their soccer practice, watching Dancing with the Stars or American Idol or NASCAR, polishing our golf clubs, bitching about what the former governor of NY did or what Obama’s preacher said or Britney’s latest shenanigan. It’s kind of sad that we’re losing touch with our past because we simply don’t take the time to reflect on it. Ever.
Quietly, silently, Lazare Ponticelli died and the world drove right on by. France stopped for him, as they should. It might not have been a bad thing for all nations touched by WWI to pause for a moment to reflect on how little was gained in the 90 years following the “war to end all wars,” and how much the world of today is still wrestling with the power struggles that WWI either failed to solve or altered in less-than-stellar ways.