Carson man may be Nevada’s last World War I veteran
CARSON CITY – Reuben Law, 105, credits “good heart genes” and lifelong outdoor activity for his apparent status as Nevada’s last remaining veteran of World War I.
Law is one of fewer than 200 surviving U.S. veterans of that war out of a total of 4.7 million who served.
“I’m pretty rickety, but I still get along,” Law said during an interview at his Carson City home as he reminisced about his stint as an Army sergeant, hauling supplies or transporting soldiers shattered by bombs or bullets to a military hospital near the village of Allerey in eastern France.
While the duty was grim, Law downplays his service overseas from October 1918 to July 1919.
“I had the easy part of the war,” he said. “We could hear the big artillery in the distance, but we were never near it.”
After enlisting in Minneapolis, where he was working at a Ford plant assembling Model T’s, Law almost died en route to Europe. A flu outbreak took the lives of more than 60 other soldiers on the troop ship that brought him to France.
“I just barely made it,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to the hospital, which was a mistake. But it worked out.”
Law’s best memory of the war was its end, Armistice Day.
“We loaded up a bunch of us in a camion (truck) and we went into Allerey to celebrate, and every girl that we went by gave you a kiss. They were so relieved about the war,” he said.
Looking at framed mementos of his Army service – his sergeant’s stripes, dog tags, the Legion of Honor medal that France awarded him in 1999 – Law said “I was doing something that needed to be done. I got through it without too much difficulty.”
Law never returned to Europe after the war.
“I regret that I never did,” he said. “I would have enjoyed it. Now I’m not able to.”
He wanted to sign up again for military service when World War II began but officials told Law – then in his early 40s – that he was too old. So he ended up serving in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, as a part-time pilot of a patrol boat on the Mississippi River.
Talking about the current Iraq war, Law said he has “no good judgment” on U.S. involvement there, although he thinks it’s the right thing. He adds, “I’m just amazed that other countries, such as France, are not” involved to the same extent.
The Iraqis aligned with Saddam Hussein “are a puzzle to me,” Law added. “I don’t understand how, for the sake of religion, they’re willing to kill as many as they can that don’t believe the way they do. It’s barbaric.”
Law, twice widowed and the father of four children, was born in Minnesota and spent most of his life there. He moved to Nevada in 1993 to live with a son and his family. In his early 90s when he came to Carson City, Law said he was able to do a lot of yard work and take walks around the neighborhood.
“But I’m doing less and less,” he said. “I don’t have the physical push I had. I’m still pulling a few weeds in the yard, but I’m tapering off every single year.”
Still, he walks without a cane, reads papers and watches television news shows daily, puts together jigsaw puzzles, hears fairly well with the help of a hearing aid, and cooks his own meals when his son David and wife Linda are out of town. He drove a car until giving that up at age 101. In his mid-90s, he went for rides in a hot air balloon and a sailplane.
Law’s mother and an aunt lived to the age of 109. Besides the “good heart genes” he inherited, he said he was able to spend a lot of time outdoors in careers in park service and landscape architecture.
Law wound up as deputy director of Minnesota’s park system before leaving state service. He later was a landscape architect in a Minneapolis-based firm, and eventually retired to northern Minnesota where he became mayor of the town of Emily and head of the town’s co-op phone company. He smoked cigarettes for 45 years and then switched to a pipe before giving that up several years ago. He used to have a glass of wine every night but that began to upset his stomach.
“I finally got to where the only drink I could tolerate is scotch on the rocks. That’s what I drink now,” he said.
Law became Nevada’s last World War I veteran, as far as state and federal officials know, only last month, when 109-year-old William Brown died in Las Vegas.
Queries made to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, state Office of Veteran Services, veterans’ medical facilities in Reno and Las Vegas and to various veterans’ associations and nursing homes around the state turned up no reports of other living Nevadans who served in World War I. Veterans Affairs said there are fewer than 200 veterans alive from the “war to end all wars.”
“The World War I veterans set the stage for veterans who came along after them, who emulated them throughout the 20th Century,” said Chuck Fulkerson, executive director of the state Office of Veteran Services. “They answered a call to arms, to protect democracy which was under attack in foreign lands.
“Their place in history is right up there with all the rest of the veterans and all the wars we’ve fought.”