Nathan E. Cook, the oldest known American war veteran and last surviving veteran of the Spanish-American War era, has died. He was 106.
Cook died on Thursday.
"He just died because he was old," said Sharon Ward, volunteer service specialist at Carl Hayden VA Medical Center.
"The passing of our nation's oldest war veteran is more than just an historical footnote," Veterans Affairs Secretary Edward J. Derwinski said in Washington. "Nathan Cook's life spanned a period in which America grew from a nation just emerging on the world scene, to become the greatest power on Earth."
Cook left a 50-cent-a-day job at a Kansas City packing plant and lied about his age (then 15) in order to join the Navy in 1901, after he saw the poster, "Join the Navy and See the World."
He saw action in the Philippine Insurrection, begun by Filipino insurgents unable to gain recognition of their independence from the United States. Spain had ceded the Philippines after losing the Spanish-American War of 1898. The insurgency began in 1899 and was crushed in May, 1901.
During his 44-year career, Cook also saw action in the Boxer Rebellion in China, clashes on the U. S.-Mexican border and in both world wars.
In World War I, Cook commanded a sub chaser that sank two German U-boats. And he decided to forgo retirement to fight in World War II, commanding a sea-going tug stationed at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and a submarine tender at Panama.
The Veterans Affairs Department said 392,000 men and women served during the 1898-1902 period that included the United States' war with Spain.
The department said there are 62,000 surviving veterans of World War I, with an average age of 91.
Cook had said Navy life was tough but that it beat living on a farm in his native Missouri. During his military career, Cook's shipmates nicknamed him "Northeast," derived by his shipmates from his first two initials.
Cook attributed his longevity to clean living, although he once smoked cigars. He didn't drink alcohol, preferring to keep tea in his flask.
He entered the VA home in 1982 after his wife of 76 years, Elizabeth, died. They met in New York in 1901 and married in 1905.
Cook is survived by two daughters and a son, five grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.