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John Painter; Thought to Be Nation's Oldest Veteran

March 05, 2001|From Associated Press

CELINA, Tenn. — John Painter, the man thought to be the nation's oldest veteran, whose military service during World War I took him from the hills of Tennessee to the front lines of France, has died at the age of 112.

Painter, called the nation's oldest veteran by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, died of a heart attack Thursday at his home in Hermitage Springs, in north-central Tennessee.

Born Sept. 20, 1888, in Jackson County, Tenn., Painter grew up working as a blacksmith and farmer.

In 1917, he joined the Army with his brother and went to France, where his enlistment included leading horse-driven ammunition wagons to the front lines of combat.

"He served his country with great distinction. He was a very patriotic American," said Wendell Gilbert, commissioner of Tennessee's Department of Veterans Affairs.

Painter was given France's Order of the Legion of Honor--that country's highest honor--for his World War I service.

The governor last year declared Painter's 112th birthday as "John Painter Day" in Tennessee. The veteran received more than 500 birthday cards that year from VA employees across the nation who heard about the milestone over the Internet.

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