Monday, July 20, 2009

World's Oldest Man Dies


Henry Allingham has seen and experienced more in his life than most people would have in three lifetimes.

He went to war as a teenager, helped keep flimsy aircraft flying, survived his wounds and came home from World War I to a long — very long — and fruitful life.

But only in his last years did he discover his true mission: to remind new generations of the sacrifices of the millions slaughtered in the trenches, killed in the air, or lost at sea in what Britons call the Great War.

Allingham, who was the world's oldest man when he died Saturday at 113, attributed his remarkable longevity to "cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women."

Jokes aside, he was a modest man who served as Britain's conscience, reminding young people time and time again about the true cost of war.

"I want everyone to know," he told The Associated Press during an interview in November. "They died for us."

He was the last surviving original member of the Royal Air Force, which was formed in 1918. He made it a personal crusade to talk about a conflict that wiped out much of a generation. Though nearly blind, he would take the outstretched hands of visitors in both of his, gaze into the eyes of children, veterans and journalists and deliver a message he wanted them all to remember about those left on the battlefield.

"I don't want to see them forgotten," he would say quietly. "We were pals."

Only a handful of World War I veterans remain of the estimated 68 million mobilized. There are no French veterans left alive; just one left now in Britain; and the last living American-born veteran is Frank Woodruff Buckles of Charles Town, West Virginia. The man believed to have been Germany's last surviving soldier has also died.

"It's the end of a era— a very special and unique generation," said Allingham's friend, Dennis Goodwin. "The British people owe them a great deal of gratitude."

Born June 6, 1896, during the reign of Queen Victoria, Allingham would later recall sitting on his grandfather's shoulders waving a flag for King Edward VII's coronation in 1902. Transportation was horse drawn, coal was the primary fuel, street lighting was gas and in the financial heart of London, there was same-day mail delivery.

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