The Last Man Standing
This past Sunday marked the end of an era in US history. Frank W. Buckles celebrated his 110th birthday on February first. He died peacefully at his home on February 27th. Buckles was one of 4,734,992 Americans who served in World War I. With his death, there are no more surviving US veterans of that war.
Buckles was rejected by the Marine Corps and the Navy in 1917 for being too small (or more likely, suspiciously young-looking). Buckles told an Army recruiter he was 21 and that the only proof of his age was the family Bible. He was inducted and served as an ambulance driver in France. He was 16 years old. After the war, Buckles escorted prisoners back to Germany and returned home to Oklahoma in 1920. Working for a shipping company in 1942, he was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines and spent three years as a prisoner until the end of the war. Buckles then married and raised livestock on his farm. In 2008, he became famous as the last living US veteran of the “Great War.” Buckles worked with the World War I Memorial Foundation, and gave interviews which are being made into a documentary of his life called Pershing’s Last Patriot.
Claude Stanley Choules will turn 110 this week. He was only 14 years old when he joined the Nautical Training Ship Mercury, and then transferred to the Royal Navy in 1916. Choules was still a teenager at the end of World War I. He transferred to the Royal Australian Navy in 1926, and served during World War II as well. In fact, he remained with the Australian Navy until his retirement in 1956! He now lives in a retirement home in Perth. Choules’ autobiography is named The Last of the Last. He is now the only documented living combat veteran of World War I.
Reading about the dwindling number of World War I veterans made me curious about the last survivors of previous wars. Many are documented from wars going back to antiquity. This post looks at the last surviving veterans of US wars.
The Spanish-American War
Ostensibly born in 1882, Jones Morgan was a Buffalo soldier who ran away from home at age 15 and served during the Spanish-American War in 1898. He was not in combat, but took care of Teddy Roosevelt’s horses and was present during the Battle of San Juan Hill. After two years of service, Morgan’s parents found him and took him home. Morgan died in 1993. His status as a veteran of the Spanish-American War is in dispute, as any records of his service were destroyed in a fire, which led to the denial of veterans benefits.
The US Civil War
Albert Woolson was born in 1847 and signed up for the Union Army in 1864 after his father died in the conflict. The 17-year-old served as a drummer and bugler with Company C, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery. Woolson was discharged in 1865. After the war, he worked as a railroad fireman, a grain miller, a lumberjack, an electrician, and in appliance manufacturing. He finally retired from his last job at age 86. After he reached the age of 100, Woolson became a celebrity as a surviving veteran of the Civil War and took the office of senior vice commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic. He was the last member of the organization. When Woolson died on August 2, 1956, thousands of people attended his funeral and lined the parade route. Some film footage of Woolson is available at YouTube.
The last surviving veteran of the Confederate Army is considered to be Pleasant Crump, who was born in 1847 in Alabama and joined the Virginia forces at age 16. Crump was a witness to the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. He returned to Alabama after the war, where he farmed for the rest of his life. Crump died on December 31st, 1951 at the age of 104.
The Mexican-American War
Owen Thomas Edgar was born in 1831 and was 14 years old when he joined the US Navy as an apprentice. Edgar was aboard ship during the Mexican War of 1846, and served until he was discharged in 1849. He later worked at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and afterward worked in a bank. Edgar was 98 years old when he died on September 3rd, 1929.
The Indian Wars
The American Indian Wars were a collection of conflicts that spanned over a hundred years, from the founding of the United States to the Battle of Bear Valley in 1918, although some sources put the end of the conflicts at 1898.
John Daw was a Navajo named Hasteen-tsoh at his birth in 1870. He took the name John Daw when he enlisted in the US Army in 1891 and served at Fort Wingate in the New Mexico Territory. Daw was a tracker who looked for Apaches until he left the service in 1894. Afterward, he lived on Navajo Nation land in Arizona. After Daw died in 1965 (the exact date is not known), he was acknowledged as the last Navajo Tracker for the US Army.
Frederick Fraske was born in Prussia in 1872, and emigrated to the US as a young child. In 1894 the age of 21, he enlisted in the US Army and served with company F of the 17th infantry at Fort D.A. Russell in Wyoming. Fraske worked as a letter carrier and medic. Although his unit saw action against the Indians, Fraske never fired a shot, and later said he was glad of it because had nothing against the Indians. He was discharged in 1897 after three years. He later worked as a painter and a security guard until he retired at age 88. Fraske died on June 8th, 1973, at the age 0f 101 and is widely considered to be the last veteran of the Indian Wars.
The War of 1812
Hiram Cronk was born in 1800, which makes the fact that he served in the War of 1812 sound impossible. However, the war lasted until February of 1815. Cronk was 14 when he enlisted and served for approximately 100 days before the war’s end. He surprised the other soldiers by fighting well at Sackett’s Harbor despite his small size. As an adult, he married, worked as a shoemaker, and had seven children. When he died in 1905, an estimated 25,000 people came to pay respects to the last veteran of that war. Cronk’s funeral procession was recorded on film.
The Revolutionary War
The Continental Army in the Revolutionary War had many soldiers who were not properly documented, and there are several candidates for the last surviving veteran.
Lemuel Cook was also born in 1759 and survived to the age of 106. He joined the Continental Army at age 16 and received an honorable discharge signed by George Washington in 1784. Cook died in 1866, making him the longest-surviving documented Revolutionary War veteran. Cook dictated his experiences for posterity.
Daniel Bakeman was born in 1759 and died in 1869 at the age of 109. There were no documents to show that he served in the Revolutionary War, but Congress passed a special act to grant Bakeman a pension two years before he died.
John Gray is another candidate for the title of last Revolutionary War veteran, as he joined the army at age 16 in 1780, four years after his father died in the war. However, Gray only served for six months, and so was ineligible for a pension. Gray died on March 29, 1868.