The Last of the Last

Claude Choules died yesterday. He was 110.

If Claude’s age were not enough to give us pause, this certainly should: Claude was the last known combat veteran* from World War I. In case your history is rusty, that brutal conflict ended in 1918. Yes. 1918.

Claude entered the Queen’s navy when he was only 15. He wanted to be a bugler for the army, but they put him on the seas. In an NPR interview after his biography The Last of the Last came out (he was the oldest first-time published writer), he recounted memories of the Japanese Navy’s surrender. Catch that? Japanese Navy. Oh, by the way, he was a veteran of both World Wars. Of course, he’s the finale of that generation as well.

Not long ago, after several death left him the last man standing, an interviewer asked Claude for his thoughts. “Everything comes to those who wait and wait,” he said.

Claude said he hated war. Noble men do. And he said his family was his richest joy. The picture below was Claude at 100 kneeling beside his wife Ethel, age 97. This was in 2000 as they celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. On these days, I pause and think about my own life, about the life I hope for my sons, about the husband I want to be, about the ideas and convictions that I hold dear.

I know there are courageous women and men in every generation (and I name a number as friends). I know that the older I get the easier it can be to see the world in jaded hues — and the more complicated the notion of bravery and ideals becomes. Still, when men like this pass, I do wonder if there are others to step into the gap.

Rest in peace, Claude.

*Florence Green, 108, is now the lone living remnant we have of the World War I veteran generation. However, Florence was never in combat. So, the combat veterans have crossed the veil. Too soon, we will say farewell to all of this era.

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