Oldest surviving US WWI veteran dies

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

J. Russell Coffey, the oldest surviving United States veteran of First World War (WWI), has died. He was 109.

Coffey's death was announced by the Smith-Crates Funeral Home in North Baltimore, Ohio. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA), he is the last remaining veteran of the war in Ohio. He was also one of just three remaining US WWI veterans.

Coffey, who was born on September 1, 1898, never saw armed conflict as he enlisted in October 1918, just one month prior to Germany and The Allies signing a ceasefire deal. As a result, he failed to complete basic training in time to enter battle. He left Ohio State University, where he had been studying, in order to join the army.

He had two elder brothers, both of whom saw combat, and for some time he expressed regret at having not being able to join the war, although in April 2007 he told the Associated Press "I think I was good to get out of it.".

He returned to education at New York University, where he earned a doctorate. He went on to follow a career of playing baseball at a semipro level, as well as teaching students at both college and high school level. He also raised a family; however, his wife and daughter have both since died. He once said to his daughter Betty Jo Larsen, who died in September, that he would prefer to be remembered for what he had done rather than his age. "He told me 'Even a prune can get old.'" she once said.

He continued to drive until the age of 104, and lived alone until the age of 106. After that, he moved into the Blakely Care Center nursing home, where he resided until his death. The funeral home did not disclose the location of his death.

A cause of death is yet to be established, although it is known he had been in poor health since October.

According to the USDVA, the other surviving veterans are Frank Buckles, 106, of Charles Town, West Virginia and Harry Richard Landis, 108, of Sun City Center, Florida.


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