Three days ago, April 6, marked 100 years since America entered the First World War. In April 1995, whilst living in Houston I met one of the last living Americans who fought in that war. Here are my notes, from my journal, written that same day:
12 April 1995 Wednesday
Eating lunch today at Randalls I met a fellow who is 102. Thinning white hair, horn-rimmed glasses, hard of hearing and stooped, but not badly so. Standing straight up he would have been about my height. Not real spry, but still walking –– shuffling –– while
holding onto someone’s arm, and he certainly seemed sharp enough. He was out shopping with his son and daughter-in-law, and was talking to everyone he saw in a strong voice. He gladly told anyone interested that he was born in 1893, and he was in World War I eighty years ago, and a couple of years ago he got a medal for being the last World War I veteran in Galveston, and there’s no place like home, no place like Randalls. “He loves coming to Randalls,” daughter-in-law said. He was born in Austria, and his father “had the good sense to get me out of there, out of the old world”, so the family came to the States in 1901. When I asked him if the world is a better or worse place than it was eighty years ago, this old fellow stood still, straightened up as much as he could, and declared in a loud voice with a slight accent that if it hadn’t been for the United States of America the world wouldn’t be CIVILIZED and Germany would be the ONLY country ruling, and the United States keeps other countries in line, and GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES! He repeated this a couple of times –– GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES! –– for those who missed it. And he didn’t seem to care that everyone within twenty-five yards could hear him, which I guess is the privilege of being 102. Then a couple of other old fellows –– this is quite a spot for that set to gather for coffee –– declared that they had been in World War II and what was the difference? For a moment I thought they were going to have it out over which was the better war.
Finally daughter-in-law nudged him along, and I asked his son, “Has he always been this outgoing?”
“Oh yes,” the son answered, “HELL yes!”