- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008

Harry R. Landis, 108, World War I veteran

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Harry Richard Landis, who enlisted in the Army in 1918 and was one of only two known surviving U.S. veterans of World War I, died Monday. He was 108.

Mr. Landis, who lived at a Sun City Center nursing home, recently had been in the hospital suffering from a fever and low blood pressure, his caregiver said.

“He only took vitamins and eye drops, no other medication,” Donna Riley said yesterday. “He was 108 and a healthy man. That’s why all of this was sudden and unexpected. He was so full of life.”

The remaining U.S. veteran is Frank Buckles, 107, of Charles Town, W.Va., according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. John Babcock of Spokane, Wash., 107, served in the Canadian army and is the last known Canadian veteran of the war.

Another World War I veteran, Ohioan J. Russell Coffey, died in December at 109. The last known German World War I veteran, Erich Kaestner, died New Year’s Day at 107.

Mr. Landis trained as an Army recruit for 60 days at the end of the war and never went overseas. But the VA counts him among the 4.7 million men and women who served during the war.

In an interview with the Associated Press in April in his Sun City Center apartment, Mr. Landis recalled that his time in the Student Army Training Corps involved a lot of marching. VA records show his entry date into the service was Oct. 14, 1918.

“I don’t remember too much about it,” he said. “We went to school in the afternoon and drilled in the morning.”

They often drilled in their street clothes.

“We got our uniforms a bit at a time. Got the whole uniform just before the war ended,” he said. “Fortunately, we got our greatcoats first. It was very cold out there.”

He told reporters in earlier interviews that he spent a lot of time cleaning up a makeshift sick ward and caring for recruits sickened by an influenza pandemic.

When asked whether he wanted to get into the fight, Mr. Landis said, “No.”

He signed up to fight the Germans again in 1941, but was rejected as too old at 42.

“I registered, but that’s all there was to it,” Mr. Landis said.

Mr. Landis was born in 1899 in Marion County, Mo. He joined the Student Army Training Corps in 1918 but got out when the war ended.

He was a manager at S.S. Kresge Co., which later became Kmart, in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Dayton, Ohio. His fondest memory was taking golf vacations with three friends and their families, a tradition that ended more than five decades ago with the death of his best friend.

“We really looked forward to getting our old foursome together and going somewhere for a couple of weeks,” Mr. Landis said. “Sadly, my favorite best friend lived until he was only 60 years old. We were like brothers. We could talk about business, serious things, and we could act like a couple of kids.”

Mr. Landis retired to Florida’s warmer climate in 1988 and lived in an assisted living facility with his wife of 30 years, Eleanor, 100.

His first wife, Eunice, died after 46 years of marriage. They had no children. He said he enjoyed a good game of golf until his health kept him off the course.

Mr. Landis laughed when asked the secret to his longevity.

“Just keep swinging,” he said.

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