Uncle Sam is sending out a final bugle call for the last American doughboys who served in the War to End All Wars.
With the number of known living American veterans of World War I now at only four, the Department of Veterans Affairs is seeking public assistance in determining whether others are still alive.
“We are coming to the end of a generation that helped bring the United States to the center of the international arena,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, whose agency wants to identify unknown service survivors to ensure they are given the respect they have earned.
The VA typically becomes aware of the identity and location of veterans only after they come to the department for benefits. So it’s possible other World War I veterans could be living.
“There is most likely more than four — people were enlisting very young [during World War I] — 13 years old in some cases,” said AmVets spokesman Joe Chenelly. “But it doesn’t really surprise us that the number living isn’t much higher.”
AmVets, one of the nation’s largest veterans service organizations, also has been unsuccessful in locating additional World War I veterans.
The VA initiated its public appeal after two World War I veterans from Maryland died only a few days apart last month: Lloyd Brown, 105, of Charlotte Hall, who was the last known surviving World War I Navy veteran; and Charlotte L. Winters, 109, of Boonsboro, who was the last known surviving American female World War I veteran.
The department said it received information from the public this month about five potential additional World War I veterans, spokesman Matt Burns said. But after investigating it was revealed the individuals served after World War I.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars has passed on the VA’s request to its members, but with no luck.
“You’ve always got to hold out hope that there are more, but they’re very old now,” VFW spokesman Joe Davis said.
The four known surviving World War I veterans are John Babcock, 102, Puget Sound, Wash.; Frank Buckles, 106, Charles Town, W.Va.; Russell Coffey, 108, North Baltimore, Ohio; and Harry Landis, 107, Sun City Center, Fla. Mr. Babcock is an American who served in the Canadian army. The other three survivors were in the U.S. Army.
Five years ago the number of living American World War I veterans was about 50, the VA says. The number dropped in half two years ago.
About 4.7 million men and women served in the U.S. armed forces during World War I. About 53,000 died in combat, with another 204,000 wounded.
To qualify as a World War I veteran, someone must have been on active duty between April 6, 1917, and Nov. 11, 1918. The VA also is looking for surviving Americans who served in the armed forces of allied nations.
Information about survivors can be sent to the VA via e-mail at: email@example.com; fax at 202/273-6702; or mailed to the Office of Public Affairs, Department of Veterans Affairs (80), 810 Vermont Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20420.