The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

10 January 2004

Just fading away

Alfred Pugh has died in Bay Pines, Florida. According to the Veterans Administration, he was the oldest American veteran who had been wounded in combat.

Pugh, who spoke both French and English, served in World War I as an infantryman who doubled as interpreter, and was taken out by a mustard-gas blast in the Argonne. "We didn't get gas masks," he said, "until the day after it happened." The French subsequently elected him to the Légion d'Honneur with rank of Chevalier.

The VA says about three hundred American WWI veterans are still alive.

Al Pugh survived the mustard gas, but it was something else that got to his lungs that killed him: pneumonia. He was a week and a half short of his 109th birthday.

I thank him, as I thank all our troops.

Posted at 11:06 AM to Almost Yogurt

My grandfather, if he were still alive (he died in 1984) would have turned 100 this year. He served in the cavalry (really!) in France in World War I. My dad used to have a picture of Granddaddy and his horse; it's somewhere in my sister's stored stuff now, I guess.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 12:09 PM on 10 January 2004

If your granddad would have turned 100 this year, that would mean he was only 13 or 14 when the U.S. entered WWI in 1917. If he was in another country that was in the war, he would have been even younger when the war started there. No offense intended, but are you sure you've got the story straight from your family? It's hard to believe a kid that young could get into the army at that time, no matter how old he might have looked.

Posted by: CT at 3:32 PM on 10 January 2004

Uh, CT, the war didn't just last during the calendar year of 1917, it went on for several years thereafter. Also, there are many verified cases of kids running away from home and lying about their ages.

Her story could -easily- be true even if he joined several years later -of legal age-.

Realize, even if he didn't manage to get to his unit until the day of the end of the war, he was -still- in a combat unit during combat.

Posted by: Steve at 4:41 PM on 10 January 2004

Combat ended on Nov. 11, 1918--that's not "several years" after U.S. entry. There was mop-up stuff in some areas, but it was all over in France by then. The war would have been over when her grandfather was still a kid. I do notice she doesn't say he was in combat, just that he served in France in the cavalry during WWI. But still, the numbers don't add up, which is why I was curious.

I've run into this with friends; one grew up believing that his dad was a Korean War veteran because his old man had been in the Army, and served in Korea. It wasn't until a group of us were asking him for details over lunch one day, and doped out that, based on the father's age and when he said he was in the Army, that he in fact wasn't in the War, but instead did a tour of duty in Korea in the late '50s. The friend later verified this, and it turned out it was all just miscommunication, combined with some poor knowledge of history.

Based on that, I'm wondering if the same thing hadn't happened here--that her grandfather might have been in World War II instead, or was younger or older than she thought, etc. One way or other, something doesn't seem right.

Posted by: CT at 6:02 PM on 10 January 2004

He wouldn't have been a U.S. cavalry horse soldier in WW2. The horse cavalry, except for ceremonial stuff, was phased out -- I believe, in the 1930s.

Posted by: McGehee at 9:00 PM on 10 January 2004

Huh, I do believe ct is right; well, about the age, of course, though my grandfather may have lied about his age to get into the service I don't think he would have done so at the age of thirteen. Come to think of it, I don't know if my father actually said "he was in World War I" -- maybe it was something he said about "doughboys" that made me think so. He was in the cavalry though, if postwar, because I saw the picture. (I can't verify anything as all my relatives on my father's side are dead now.)

On the other hand, I always thought my grandfather was born in 1904; what if I was mistaken about that?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 10:20 AM on 11 January 2004