BELFAST, Maine — Writer/historian Richard Rubin will present an illustrated talk on America’s role in World War I, and its crucial involvement in securing the peace, in a special program marking the 100th anniversary of WWI at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1, at Belfast Free Library, 106 High St.
The event, which is free and open to all, is made possible by gifts from the library, the Belfast Historical Society, the American Legion Post 43, and Left Bank Books, in special honor of Belfast, and all, veterans.
Best known as the author of “The Last of the Doughboys”, acclaimed interviews with the last surviving veterans of the War, Rubin’s talk will be based on his newest book, “Back Over There: One American Time-Traveler, 100 Years Since the Great War, 500 Miles of Battle-Scarred French Countryside.”
Part history, part travelogue, part exploration of how memory is passed down among generations, the new book grew out of Doughboys and a follow-on series that Rubin did for The New York Times on American World War I battle sites in Europe. “I knew all about the places where the men I’d interviewed had dodged death,” he writes in the opening chapter, “but I had never seen them, and my sense [was] that I didn’t have the whole story, that the rest of it lay Over There.”
Thus began a 2014 journey back to France and to the rural landscape where most Americans fought. Moving chronologically along the paths of battle, Rubin finds trenches, tunnels, bunkers, cemeteries, century-old graffiti, artifacts everywhere, and an outpouring of gratitude. This is a place “where the past and present are never really separated,” he explains. While Americans may think of the war as ‘dead and gone,’ the French cannot forget that it was the Americans — from an ocean away – who stepped in and helped turn the tide for the Allies, driving Germany from French territory that it had held for four years.
Rubin also finds several Maine connections, which will be featured in his talk, each unexpected and deeply moving. Among these are the war journals of Mechanic Ralph Moan of Eastport; chiseled carvings, in an underground chalk mine, by Allie Ardine of South Brewer; a memorial to 18-year-old John Elliott of Bangor, just visible in blue ink deep inside a mine; and, nearer to home, in Sipayik, Maine, only a few miles from the country’s easternmost point, the grave of Moses Neptune, son of a Passamaquoddy Indian chief, who was killed on November 10, 1918, just 24 hours before the War was ended.
Rubin is a wonderfully entertaining writer and terrific speaker and, in the words of reviewer E. E. Hotchner, “Back Over There is journalistic magic.” A self-described ‘history nut’ since childhood, Rubin was featured on PBS’s three-part American Experience special on World War One this past April and is a frequent guest on Maine radio and television. He began his career as a small-town journalist in Greenwood, Mississippi. Since then, he has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Smithsonian magazines, as well as for The New York Times. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University, he makes his home outside of Brunswick, Maine.
For information on Tuesday’s program, please contact the Belfast Library at 338.3884, ext. 10, or Left Bank Books at 338-9009. Both of Rubin’s books will be available for purchase and signing at the talk, and in advance from Left Bank Books. The public, and especially veterans and their families, are warmly invited to this community event.