Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

December 4, 2012

The last soldiers

Pat Smith
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Friday is Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7.

On that day, we remember the three Decatur County men that died Dec. 7, 1941, and of course, we remember those who are serving our country now. Before we get into this week’s column about veterans, I’ll tell you that several of us went to Rushville to hear the Rush County Chorale Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon.

The singers were nothing short of magnificent. Other members from our county may be members of the chorale but Scott Wildey, owner of our Ponderosa, sings tenor in it and is president of the singers.

Marc Haston posted on Facebook last week that Irene Davey, the oldest female World War II veteran in Massachusetts, had died at age 104 years. Frank Buckles, the last World War I veteran, died last year. Being the last veteran of any war is probably not on anyone’s list of things to do but we do acknowledge the passing, maybe because it is our last link with a particular historic era. I wondered if records were kept that would tell us about the last veteran of all of our wars -  up to World War II of course.

In the book “Lest We Forget,” researched by Bill Ford and published by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5584, there is a poem titled “The Last Old Soldier.”

The author is unknown but it was at a time when Civil War veterans were dying.  The following are the first and last verses of the eight verse poem: “Say, boys, have you heard what the newspapers say?  One hundred and fifty old soldiers a day – Footsore and weary, have dropped at last, Back on the road where the column has passed. / At last but a company, then a platoon – a few stragglers left; then soon, ah, too soon – We will read this small item: ‘The news comes today that the last old soldier has just passed away.’”

Using the government pension records is the best way to discover the last survivor of a war. The Revolutionary War veterans buried in Decatur County, that I found, died during the 1830s or 1840s. Daniel Bakeman claimed to be a veteran of the Revolution and was awarded a pension by Congress but there was no proof that he served. John Gray’s service was verified but his service was too short for a pension. The last official Revolutionary War veteran was Lemuel Cook from New York who died in May 1866 at age 107. He was buried with military honors. He was the Last Full Pensioner in the Government records the last year of his life.

When Hiram Cronk died in 1905 at age 105 he was the last veteran of the War of 1812. Born in 1800 when John Adams was president he lived all of the 19th century as the United States became a world leader and a rich country.

The last veteran of the Mexican War was Owen Thomas Edgar who died in 1929 at age 98. Born in Philadelphia, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in February 1846 and served until August 1849. Edgar saw service on the frigates Potomac, Allegheny, Pennsylvania and Experience.

The records for the Civil War are probably not accurate because many of the Confederate Army’s records were  destroyed, lost or simply not kept. Albert Henry Woolson was the last member of the Union Army and the last surviving Civil War veteran on either side whose status is undisputed. He died in 1956 at age 109.

Walter Williams has been cited as the last survivor of the Confederate Army. He died December 1959 at 117 years old. His claim, has been questioned or debunked. Probably the last was James Albert Hard who died in 1953 at age 110. Part of the problem may be that some veterans of the war couldn’t read or write and didn’t know they could apply for pensions.

Fredrak Fraske was the last veteran of the Indian Wars. He died in 1973 at age 101. He entered the service in 1894, 17th Infantry, and served three years. He was born in Germany and came to America in 1877. He said his only encounter with western Indians ended with no shots being fired.

Jones Morgan was the last Spanish American War veteran. He was an African American who died in Virginia in 1992 at age 110. Sam Evans, also an African American who fought in the Spanish American War, is buried in South Park Cemetery.

Last year, the last survivor of World War I died. Frank Buckles served in that war and was a civilian working in the Philippines when he was taken prisoner during World War II.