Alfred Pugh, 108; U.S.'s Oldest Wounded Vet
Alfred Pugh, believed by veterans officials to be the last surviving wounded U.S. combat veteran of World War I, has died. He was 108.
Pugh died of pneumonia Wednesday at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Bay Pines in St. Petersburg, Fla., just 10 days short of his 109th birthday.
Pugh, who often told visitors that the key to a long life was to “keep breathing,” joined the Army in 1917 and fought in France during World War I with the 77th Infantry Division. In 1918, he was wounded in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the last major battle of the war.
VA officials in St. Petersburg said that Pugh was not only the last wounded World War I veteran on record but that he was also the oldest wounded combat veteran in the United States. He was also one of fewer than 1,000 remaining American veterans of World War I.
Friends said Pugh loved the attention that came with being known as the nation’s oldest wounded combat veteran. “It tickled him when the classes would come by the busload to see him,” said niece Carolyn Layton.
One of 12 children, Pugh was born Jan. 17, 1895, in Everett, Mass. He grew up in Westbrook, Maine, and was recognized as that state’s first Boy Scout. He outlived his six brothers and five sisters and his wife, Irene. The couple had no children.
Pugh played the organ into his 100s and was an avid football and baseball fan.
He is one of 10 veterans profiled in the book “The Price of Their Blood,” published last month and co-written by Jesse Brown, former U.S. secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Pugh spoke French and was used overseas as an interpreter until the battle in the Argonne forest, during which he inhaled mustard gas that left him unconscious and with chronic laryngitis.
“It was like a fog,” Pugh said in an interview in 2002. "... We didn’t get any gas masks until the day after it happened.”
After the war, he returned to Maine and worked as a railroad telegraph operator for 12 years before delivering mail for 26 years. He moved to Florida in 1971 and entered the Bay Pines facility in 1996.
In 1999, he was named chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor, receiving a prestigious medal bestowed by the French government.