Harry Landis, one of last World War I vets in the U.S., dies at age 108
TAMPA, Fla. -- 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, has died. He was 108.
Landis, who lived at a Sun City Center nursing home, died Monday, according to Donna Riley, his caregiver for the past five years. He had recently been in the hospital with a fever and low blood pressure, she said.
"He only took vitamins and eye drops, no other medication," Riley said Wednesday. "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 the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, 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 vet, 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.
Landis trained as a U.S. 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 woman who served during the Great War.
The last time all known U.S. veterans of a war died was Sept. 10, 1992, when Spanish-American War veteran Nathan E. Cook passed away at age 106.
In an interview with The Associated Press in April in his Sun City Center apartment, 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," said Landis, who enlisted while in college in Fayette, Mo., at age 18. "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," Landis said. "Fortunately, we got our great coats 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 had wanted to get into the fight, Landis said, "No."
When the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, Landis recalled a final march with his unit.
"We went down through the girls college, marching down the street. We got down to the courthouse square and there was a wall around this courthouse. We got to the wall and (the drill instructor) didn't know what to do and we were hup, two, three, four, hup, two, three, four," Landis said, laughing at the memory. "Finally, we jumped up on the wall and kept going until we got to the courthouse -- hup, two, three, four -- and he said dismissed."
He said he and some fellow recruits piled into a car to go to the next town.
"What we did there, why we were there, I couldn't tell you," Landis said.
He signed up to fight the Germans again in 1941, but at age 42 was rejected as too old.
"I registered, but that's all there was to it," Landis said.
"I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Mr. Landis," said LeRoy Collins Jr., executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. "He was the last World War I-era veteran in Florida, and with his passing we say goodbye to a generation."
Landis was born in 1899 in Marion County, Mo.
After the war, 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," 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."
Landis retired to Florida's warmer climate in 1988 and lived in an assisted living center with his wife of 30 years, Eleanor.
His first wife, Eunice, died after 46 years of marriage. Landis had no children. He said he enjoyed a good game of golf until his health kept him off the course.
Landis laughed when asked the secret to his longevity.
"Just keep swinging," he said.