Nation's Oldest War Veteran Dies At 109
Dec. 06, 1985
LEBANON, Pa. (AP) _ Nearly nine decades after he fought in the Philippines and in the Boxer Rebellion, the United States' oldest military veteran died Thursday at the age of 109, officials said.
Doctors at the Veterans Administration Medical Center here said Walter Pleate died at 6:40 a.m. from bronchial pneumonia.
''He just wouldn't wake up,'' said R.W. Mengel, a hospital spokesman. ''The parts just normally gave out, like a car.''
Born on Oct. 10, 1876, in Bridesburg, now part of northeast Philadelphia, Pleate enlisted in the Army on Feb. 24, 1899, said Al Mann, a VA spokesman in New York City.
The United States, which declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898, had ended its fighting in Cuba by August of that year. But until early 1902, U.S. troops continued battling guerrillas in the Philippines, where Pleate was sent with the rest of Company 1 of the 2nd Infantry Division.
While in the Philippines, Pleate was an interpreter of Tagalog, a native language spoken by many Filipinos.
Pleate also fought in the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising in northern China started by a secret society angry at the intrusion of Western culture. Troops from the United States and seven other nations quelled the uprising.
It was called the Boxer Rebellion because of a mistake in translating the name of the group, ''righteous-uniting band,'' which became ''righteous-unit ing fists.''
Pleate was discharged on Feb. 3, 1902, five months and a day before Congress officially declared an end to the Spanish-American War.
Mann said he had no record of Pleate receiving either injuries or medals.
Pleate had spent the past 48 years in VA hospitals in Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
A VA official who asked not to be identified said Pleate had been declared mentally incompetent in 1909 and was scarcely aware of the birthday parties held every year for him.
''Walter was liked by all the personnel,'' said Mengel. ''Everybody had a good word for him.''
Pleate became the nation's oldest military veteran on Oct. 30, 1984, when Harry Chaloner died at Bay Pines VA Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., at the age of 110.
With Pleate's death, the oldest veteran is Christian F. Steinle of California, who is in West Los Angeles VA Medical Center and turned 107 on May 3. Steinle was in the Army's 1st Artillery Corps, 71st Company, from March 16, 1899 through March 15, 1902, according to Beulah Cope, national secretary of the United Spanish War Veterans in Washington.
She said she had no information about Pleate since he had not been a member of the committee.
Steinle is among 11 surviving veterans of the Spanish-American War. Also among the group is Ralph W. Taylor of Pompano Beach, Fla., at age 103 the last American alive to fight with Theodore Roosevelt at San Juan Hill in Cuba.
Pleate was a patient at VA hospitals in Coatesville, Pa., from 1937 to 1957, at Murfreesboro, Tenn., from 1957 to 1961 and again at Coatesville from 1961 until he came to the Lebanon center in 1966, Mann said.
Pleate, who had no surviving family, will be buried Monday at a military cemetery at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., Mann said.