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Great War vet turning 107

Thu., July 19, 2007

John Foster Babcock wasn’t convinced he deserved all the fuss.

“I’m sure that all the attention I’m getting isn’t because of anything spectacular I’ve done. It’s because I’m the last one,” Babcock said.

That is, the last surviving Canadian veteran of World War I. Monday marks his 107th birthday.

That’s more than enough to make Babcock remarkable, said Canadian member of Parliament James Moore.

Moore brought birthday greetings Wednesday from Queen Elizabeth II and Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean, and a tie imprinted with WWI symbols – poppies – from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Spokane and Canadian journalists gathered at Babcock’s north Spokane home to capture the moment.

Babcock was more interested in talking about his appreciation for women than the war, however, noting at one point that the queen is a “nice-looking gal.”

Throughout his life, he didn’t talk about the war much, said Babcock’s son, John Babcock Jr. That changed once the Canadian government located the Great War veteran shortly after his 100th birthday, his son said.

“We found out a few things from interviews he’s given newspapers,” he said.

The elder Babcock now lives in Spokane with his wife, Dorothy. The two have been married for more than 30 years.

They met when Dorothy nursed Babcock’s dying first wife.

He has never considered his stint in the Canadian Army in WWI to be anything remarkable, saying that he never fired a shot at the enemy.

That’s because Babcock was too young to fight.

He snuck into the military at age 15 after being inspired by a local army sergeant’s recitation of “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

After he shipped over to the England, officers moved Babcock and 1,300 other underage soldiers to one location where they trained as members of the Young Soldiers Battalion.

If the war had lasted long enough, Babcock would have fought.

Instead, he returned to North America and later joined the U.S. Army. For a time he was stationed at Fort Lewis near Tacoma.

Babcock became a U.S. citizen when he was 46 and earned his high school diploma about a decade ago through correspondence courses.

He wrote his life story prior to his 100th birthday party, titling it “Ten Decades of John Foster Babcock.”

It might be time to take out the pen again, said Kim Blanchette, a Canadian consul at the party.

“You’re going to have to add another decade,” she told Babcock.

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