WWI vet's death ends an era

November 06, 1997


Staff Writer

When 101-year-old Ernest C. Deetjen passed away Tuesday, so too did the final connection to Hagerstown's World War I Last Man Club.

Deetjen, who met both President Woodrow Wilson and President Bill Clinton, was a member of a club that started 50 years ago with 199 members and became more exclusive as the years passed.

In 1994, he became the group's last surviving member.

Officials with Morris Frock American Legion Post 42 said Wednesday they are not sure if there is any official procedure that must be carried out when the final member of a Last Man Club dies. After all, it is a situation they have never had to deal with before.


"You know, I never gave much thought to that. When the last man's gone, what are you going to do?" said Page Gearhart, treasurer of the post's World War II Last Man Club.

Last Man Clubs are formed by veterans of a particular war. They hold meetings, elect officers and have annual banquets to socialize, share memories and honor their fallen comrades.

The Morris Frock post has clubs with members who served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam, Gearhart said.

Of the 264 members of the World War II club, 160 have died, eight of them in the past year, he said.

"We're getting to a point now where it's getting hard for us," Gearhart said.

When only one member remains, a ceremony is held to honor the last man and to open a time capsule stored years before. At Deetjen's ceremony in 1994, the time capsule contained a bottle of Scotch whisky, coins, a small American flag and other items.

Since there was only one person left, the club essentially ceased to exist at that point, Gearhart said.

"When everyone but the last man's left, the club's closed," he said.

He added that in recent years Deetjen had attended the World War II group's banquet as a guest. Just last month Deetjen spoke to the group for 20 minutes, he said.

"He was a remarkable person," Gearhart said.

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