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Yeoman's work

Two local WWI vets 'keep on striving'

Two local WWI vets 'keep on striving'

November 11, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

TRI-STATE - Charlotte Winters clasped a black-and-white photograph Friday on her 109th birthday, trying to place herself among the women of World War I pictured, perhaps not realizing she's the only one left.

"We were in the Navy ... Look at us," Winters, who was dressed in her patriotic, birthday best, said slowly. "There will never be another picture like that."

Fahrney-Keedy Memorial Home's oldest resident sat in her wheelchair on Friday and smiled for the cameras that rolled and flashed for her. Winters is the last known living female World War I veteran, and one of 12 known remaining WWI veterans living in the United States, the Scripps Howard News Service has reported.

The youngest in that group - 105-year-old Frank Buckles, doesn't live far from Winters. Buckles also talked with reporters Friday between naps and physical therapy. The Charles Town, W.Va., man still does bookkeeping for his family farm.

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"I knew there would come a day when there would only be a few of us left," Buckles said Friday over the phone. "I didn't have any doubt I would be one of them."

Buckles enlisted in the Army at 16. After surviving World War I, he survived 3 1/2 years in a Japanese prison camp, where thousands died from starvation.

"One must have a desire to live, a purpose," Buckles said.

His purpose, he said, is "to keep on striving." That, too, has pushed Winters. Her nephew, Dudley Winters, said his aunt's "positive attitude" has helped push her through the years.

Winters, who was born in Washington, D.C., in 1897, enlisted in the Navy in 1917 at the age of 20.

The day after she turned 21, the Armistice ended the fighting in Europe, but Winters continued working at a naval gun factory in Washington, D.C., until 1919, when she was discharged. She was among nearly 12,000 female yeomen enlisted.

Today, Winters has a sense of humor about her age. Nurse Julia McGlaughlin said she spoke with Winters Friday morning as she prepared for her party.

She said Winters said, "I always say I'll never live 'til the next one, but then, the next one rolls around."

As attention focused on Winters, four World War II veterans, residents of the home and village, sat on folding chairs in the auditorium.

One of the veterans, 80-year-old Stanley Thawley, looked toward Winters and commented on her good shape.

Thawley said he doesn't look back too much on his own wartime experience. He doesn't have many pleasant memories of it.

"We survived," he said. "We were lucky to be survivors."

According to the Scripps Howard News Service report, the oldest known living World War I veteran and the world's oldest man is Emiliano Mercado del Toro. He is 115 and lives in Puerto Rico, according to the report.

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