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Claude Choules, The Last Surviving Veteran Of Both World Wars
Claude Choules holds distinction as the last surviving veteran of both World War I and II. Born in England, he joined the Royal Navy at age 14, serving aboard HMS Revenge, and recalled watching as German naval forces surrendered in 1918:
They knew they didn't have any more chance, or if they did, they'd given up hope.
After WWI, Choules and his wife Ethel moved to Australia. He was permanently transferred to the Royal Australian Navy in 1926 and continued to serve until 1931. A year later, he rejoined and became a torpedo officer, a rank he held during WWII. He was also a demolition officer and wiped out mines as they approached Australian shores. In addition, Choules was tasked with protecting Freemantle, Australia, from an incursion by Japan; he was told to destroy facilities and oil tanks, as well as even sink ships to stave off any assault.
Once WWII was over, Choules remained in the military until 1956 and lived in Australia until his passing in 2011 at the age of 110.2828Amazing witness to history?
Lemuel Rodney Custis, Last Member Of The Original Class Of Tuskegee Airmen
Born in 1915, Lemuel Rodney Custis (left in the picture provided) became the first Black police officer in Hartford, CT, in 1939. A graduate of Howard University, he was soon part of the initial class of Black pilot trainees in Tuskegee, AL.
It's not clear if Custis was drafted or enlisted on his own, but on March 7, 1942, he and four other Black men graduated from the program. Alongside Charles De Bow, Benjamin O. Davis, George Roberts, and Mac Ross, Custis flew nearly 100 combat operations during World War II. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, later taught at Tuskegee University, and - after leaving active military service - returned to Connecticut.
As the last member of that first class of Tuskegee Airmen, Custis passed on February 24, 2005. He was described as "a good person, an outstanding person who was not vindictive or mean, and never talked bad about anyone," by his neighbor Sheila Beeson. To the Tuskegee Airmen who followed in his footsteps, Custis was, as retired Lt. Col. Lee A. Archer Jr. put it: "[A] gentleman... for the first time in my life, there was someone I could emulate... My goal was to be like him."2257Amazing witness to history?
Dewey Beard, Last Survivor Of The Battle Of Wounded Knee
Dewey Beard passed in 1955, more than half a century after fighting at the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890. Born in 1858, Wasú Máza ("Iron Hail") - as he was known before converting to Catholicism and adopting a Christianized name - was a Minneconjou Lakota.
As a young man, he fought at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Fourteen years later, he was present at the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee, an event he later described to novelist Rex Beach.
Beard was shot at Wounded Knee and lost his wife, father, mother, brother, and child when fighting broke out. Beard's great-granddaughter Marie Fox Belly recalled sitting on her relative's lap where she "felt that scar in his leg where he was shot... I could put my hand in where the muscle was torn away."1955Amazing witness to history?
Timothy The Tortoise, Last Veteran Of The Crimean War
British Royal Marine James Gray is believed to be among the last surviving veterans of the Crimean War (1853-1856). He passed in 1939, reportedly at the age of 102.
The last-known survivor of the famous Charge of the Light Brigade, at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, was Edwin Hughes. He was a shoemaker before joining the military and sustained an injury during the charge. He lived until 1927.
While both men enjoyed long lives after their service during the Crimean War, they were outlived by the mascot of HMS Queen - a tortoise named Timothy. Actually a female, Timothy was discovered aboard a Portuguese ship in 1854 before being moved to the Queen, one of the ships that participated in the bombardment of Sevastopol during the Crimean War.
The reptile was relocated to numerous other ships until 1892, when she retired and took up residence at Powderham Castle in Devonshire, England. Timothy was estimated to be about 10 years old when she was found; at the time of her passing in 2004, she was roughly 160 years old.20517Amazing witness to history?