Special Report

The Oldest Living Veterans of WWII

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

The survivors of World War II, the most horrific conflict in human history, are dying quickly as the cohort grows older and older. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, an average of 234 American veterans of the war pass away each day. 

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans reports that as of the end of 2022, there were 167,284 American veterans still alive from among the nearly 16 million who served in the nation’s military during the war. The DVA expects that number to be less than 100,000 by 2024 and under 50,000 by 2026, (Worldwide figures are difficult to come by.) 

While some veterans entered the war at the age of 18 (sometimes younger in some places) and would thus be in their late 70s or early 80s today, depending on when the joined the service, others started even before war was declared and/or were older when their tour of duty began. 

To compile a list of the oldest survivors of World War II, 24/7 Tempo consulted the Gerontology Wiki, published by Fandom, an entertainment and gaming fan site. We limited our list to those who are at least 105 years old. Seventeen of those on the list were confirmed alive as of Feb. 13, 2023, and to the best of our knowledge, the remaining survivors are still with us as well.  

 Among those lucky to be alive are former Kriegsmarine submariner Friedrich Grade, thelast surviving crew member of the submarine U-96; Constantin Hertoiu,a Romanian soldier captured by the Soviet Union during the Battle of Stalingrad and held prisoner by the Russians for five years in Siberia; and Kazimierz Klimczak, a Polish Army officer, who is the oldest living participant in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. (See the 18 biggest battles of World War II.)

There is no shortage of heroes among the survivors on our list. They include Moon Fun Chin, a Chinese-American pilot who volunteered to rescue those on military missions and saved the lives of US military personnel, and Marcel Barbary, who escaped internment twice, eventually joining Charles de Gaulle’s Free French forces. (In our own time, these are the 10 most decorated war heroes of the 21st century.) 

Click here to read more about the oldest living veterans of World War II

In the course of the war, some of these survivors surmounted bias to serve their nations. James Clayton Flowersis one of the last of the Tuskegee Airmen, the Black aviators who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps and spearheaded the integration of the American armed forces. Jamaican-bornEna Joyce St. Clare Collymore-Woodstock was one of the first Black female radar operators for Great Britain, known for tracking the route of incoming enemy planes.

Source: Historical / Getty Images

Joseph Eskenazi
> Born: 1917
> Age as of Feb. 13: 105 years, 14 days
> Home country: United States

Joseph Eskenazi, an army veteran, is the oldest military survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Eskenazi was asleep in the Schofield Barracks when the attack took place. The Redondo Beach, California, resident risked getting strafed by Japanese fighters as he drove a bulldozer across barracks grounds to clear burning American planes off the runways. He was honored at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans on Jan. 11, 2023, as the oldest survivor of the attack. He celebrated his 105th birthday later that month.

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Ena Joyce St. Clare Collymore-Woodstock
> Born: 1917
> Age as of Feb. 13: 105 years, 156 days
> Home country: Great Britain

Jamaican-born Ena Joyce St. Clare Collymore-Woodstock is one of Great Britain’s oldest survivors of World War II and one of the first Black female radar operators. She enlisted in 1943 and survived a torpedo attack on the ship she took to London. Collymore-Woodstock became one of the “Ack Ack Girls,” who assisted in the operation of anti-aircraft guns firing at German bombers. She was responsible for tracking the path of incoming enemy planes.

After the war, Collymore-Woodstock became a lawyer and pursued a legal career lasting 40 years. In 1959, she became the first woman magistrate to preside over civil court in Jamaica.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Jiro Tanaka
> Born: 1917
> Age as of Feb. 13: 106 years, 28 days
> Home country: Japan

Jiro Tanaka served in the Imperial Japanese Army as an aircraft and automotive engineer. He enlisted in the army in October 1939 and evaluated new engines for army aircraft. In 1944, he was tasked with completing the design of the Tachikawa Ki-74, an experimental long-range reconnaissance bomber. Tanaka joined the Tokyo Electric Car Company after the war.

Makoto Ogawa
> Born: 1917
> Age as of Feb. 13: 106 years
> Home country: Japan

Makoto Ogawa is Japan’s oldest surviving pilot from World War II. He became an ace by downing seven American B-29 Superfortresses and two P-51 Mustangs during the war. He was awarded the Bukosho, the highest award given by the Imperial Japanese Army to living soldiers who demonstrated exceptional valor action in combat.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Mihai Șora
> Born: 1916
> Age as of Feb. 13: 106 years, 98 days
> Home country: Romania

A philosopher and writer, Mihai Șorawent to France to get his doctorate when the Second World War broke out. He joined the French Resistance and fought the Nazis. He was appointed education minister of Romania in 1989 after the revolution that year ousted the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Șora is an advocate for globalization and diversity.

Friedrich Grade
> Born: 1916
> Age as of Feb. 13: 106 years, 321 days
> Home country: Germany

Former Kriegsmarine submariner Friedrich Grade is the last surviving crew member of the submarine U-96. The submarine became famous as the subject of Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s 1973 bestselling novel “Das Boot” and the 1983 Oscar-nominated film adaptation of the same name. Grade was lucky to survive the war. The Allies destroyed 785 U-boats out of a total of 1,162, and U-boat crews had a casualty rate of over 75%.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

James Clayton Flowers
> Born: 1915
> Age as of Feb. 13: 107 years, 50 days
> Home country: United States

James Clayton Flowers is one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, the famed group of Black aviators who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. The airmen trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. They flew missions in Europe and North Africa during the war, and helped the racial integration of America’s military.

Constantin Hertoiu
> Born: 1914
> Age as of Feb. 13: 108 years, 350 days
> Home country: Romania

Constantin Hertoiu is the second-oldest known living man in Romania and the second-oldest living veteran in Romania, after IIie Ciocan (see above). Hertoiu joined the military in 1936 and fought on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union in World War II Hertoiu was captured by the Soviet Union during the Battle of Stalingrad and held prisoner by the Russians for five years in Siberia, working in a coal mine.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Kazimierz Klimczak
> Born: 1914
> Age as of Feb. 13: 108 years, 363 days
> Home country: Poland

Kazimierz Klimczak, a former Polish army officer, is the oldest living participant in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. He served in the Polish Army when Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and was wounded. As the Soviet Red Army drove toward Warsaw in late summer of 1944, residents of the city rose up against their German oppressors. The Soviets did not come to the Poles’ aid and the Germans put down the revolt ruthlessly, virtually razing the city. Klimczak was captured and escaped transport from Warsaw, eventually returning after the Russians captured the city.

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Marcel Barbary
> Born: 1914
> Age as of Feb. 13: 109 years, 22 days
> Home country: France

Marcel Barbary joined Charles de Gaulle’s Free French forces, opposed to the Vichy France and Nazi Germany, in 1943, after escaping internment twice and traveling through Portugal to North Africa. Among his chest full of medals are: Officer in the National Order of the Legion of Honor, Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 with palm, Voluntary Combatant’s Cross 1939-45, Voluntary Combatant’s Cross of the Resistance, Combatant’s Cross, Medal for Escapees, Medal for Voluntary Services in Free France, and Medal for Internment for Acts of Resistance.

Franz Wielander
> Born: 1914
> Age as of Feb. 13: 109 years, 23 days
> Home country: Austria

Austrian centenarian Franz Wielander, the oldest man in Austria, joined the German Army in 1941 following the annexation of his country by the Nazi regime in 1938. Wielander was captured by Soviet forces on the Eastern Front during World War II and held in a prisoner of war camp in Siberia until he was released in 1947. He was married to his wife, Hermine, for 77 years until she died at age 98 in 2017.

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Morrie Markoff
> Born: 1914
> Age as of Feb. 13: 109 years, 33 days
> Home country: United States

Morrie Markoff, son of a Russian immigrant, grew up in a tenement in New York City, survived the Spanish flu, withstood the Great Depression, and served as a military machinist during World War II. His biography describes him as the oldest known living blogger in the United States. Markoff was married to his wife, Betty, for 81 years and they lived in Los Angeles until her death at age 103 in 2019.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Huang Decheng
> Born: 1913
> Age as of Feb. 13: 109 years, 91 days
> Home country: Taiwan

When Huang Decheng was born Taiwan, it was part of the Japanese Empire. During World War II, he served Japan’s imperial army and was stationed in the Philippines. Later in life he became a neighborhood chef in Taiwan. He reportedly was still walking a kilometer at age 100 to purchase vegetables.

Joe Dixon
> Born: 1913
> Age as of Feb. 13: 109 years, 135 days
> Home country: Great Britain

Besides being Great Britain’s oldest World War II vet – he served in RAF Bomber Command during the war – Joe Dixon holds the distinction of being his nation’s, and probably the world’s, oldest retired firefighter. Dixon formerly served with the Newcastle City Police Fire Service before retiring in 1964.

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IIie Ciocan
> Born: 1913
> Age as of Feb. 13: 109 years, 261 days
> Home country: Romania

Life was always hard for IIie Ciocan. By the time he was 12 he was an orphan. To survive, he worked as a cowherd in his native Romania before serving in that country’s army during World War II. Romania was allied with Germany and took part in the invasion of the Soviet Union. Ciocan, who was married at 19, has outlived three of his six children and his wife.

Laïd Ouadah
> Born: 1913
> Age as of Feb. 13: 109 years, 343 days
> Home country: Algeria

Laïd Ouadah served with the French Army during World War II (Algeria was a French colony at the time). He participated in the invasion of Italy and said that once he got to Germany he fought alongside soldiers from the United States.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Moon Fun Chin
> Born: 1913
> Age as of Feb. 13: 109 years, 330 days
> Home country: China/United States

Moon Fun Chin, Born China, was brought to Seattle and then Baltimore by his family in the early 1900s. He moved back to China in 1933 and became a mechanic at the state-owned Chinese National Aviation Corp. During World War II, he volunteered to rescue those on military missions and saved the lives of U.S. military personnel, among them Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who led the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in 1942. Fun Chin, one of just two CNAC pilots alive, flew over “The Hump” (the eastern end of the Himalayas) 500 times during World War II.

After the war, Fun Chin started his own air carrier called Foshing Airline in Taiwan.

Pierre Pineau
> Born: 1913
> Age as of Feb. 13: 109 years, 355 days
> Home country: France
Constantin Hertoiu jh done

Pierre Pineau came from a farm in Avennerie to join the French army at the outbreak of World War II. He was captured during the Battle of France. Although there are no precise estimates, it is believed that about 1.8 million French soldiers were taken prisoner during that conflict, which raged between May and June 1940. After the war, Pineau took over running the farm until he retired in 1973.

Ethel Small
> Born: 1913
> Age as of Feb. 13: 110 years, 20 days
> Home country: United States

Ethel Small resides in an assisted-living facility in Randolph, New Jersey, after spending 73 years in the same Stuyvesant Town apartment in Manhattan. She served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) for more than two years, eventually rising to the rank of sergeant.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Rudy Thompson
> Born: 1912
> Age as of Feb. 13: 110 years, 108 days
> Home country: United States

Rudy Thompson, the oldest American veteran of World War II, was born to Norwegian immigrants on a farm in Toledo, Oregon. Thompson survived the so-called Spanish flu of 1918 and went on to serve in the U.S. Navy.

Salvatore Nardi
> Born: 1912
> Age as of Feb. 13: 110 years, 122 days
> Home country: Italy

Italian war veteran Salvatore Nardi is the second-oldest Italian survivor of World War II and is currently the oldest known living person in the region of Calabria in southern Italy.

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Tripolino Gianni
> Born: 1912
> Age as of Feb. 13: 110 years, 177 days
> Home country: Italy

Tripolino Gianni is not only the oldest Italian war veteran, he is also the oldest known living man in Italy. He was born the town of Cecina in Tuscany.

Andrea Ludwig
> Born: 1912
> Age as of Feb. 13: 110 years, 252 days
> Home country: France

Andrea Ludwig is believed to be the oldest French veteran of World War II. He joined the French Army in 1939, and the following year was taken prisoner by the Germans. Ludwig escaped twice from POW camps, according to a 2021 story in the newspaper Le Courrier de l’Ouest.

Source: Courtesy of Eric Blunt via Facebook

Reuben Sinclair
> Born: 1911
> Age as of Feb. 13: 111 years, 70 days
> Home country: Canada

Reuben Sinclair is believed to be the oldest war veteran in Canada. He was born on a farm in Lipton, Saskatchewan, and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942 at the age of 31. He served as a radio mechanic operator, deployed in Canada during the Second World War. Sinclair trained pilots on how to take off and land on blacked-out runways using his technology.

As of June 2022, there are about 25,000 Canadian veterans alive who fought in World War II, according to Veterans Affairs Canada.

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