Saluting a Living Symbol of World War I
Sunday, May 29, 2005
In his 103 years, Lloyd Brown has learned these life lessons: Help out with the dirty work, be fair to your colleagues and follow the rules. But Brown will be honored tomorrow because he broke the rules.
Brown is one of the nation's last veterans of World War I. He will ride in the National Memorial Day Parade as a living testament to the 4.7 million U.S. servicemen of the Great War -- and to longevity.
Brown was eager to join the Allied cause in 1918, but he was only 16, so he fibbed about his age. His Maryland driver's license still lists 10-7-99 -- that's 1899 -- as his birth date, instead of the correct 1901.
"Everybody was patriotic; everybody wanted to join," he said. "Those who joined were local heroes, well received on the public streets."
It didn't hurt, he added with a grin, that the boys in uniform were popular with the girls.
Parade organizers were preparing to recruit war reenactors to represent World War I veterans when they learned about Brown, who lives in Southern Maryland. He is one of 30 veterans still living, according to an unofficial estimate kept by the Department of Veterans Affairs. And that roster is rapidly dwindling.
The son of a Missouri stonemason, Brown battled Spanish flu in Philadelphia; played cello in Australia as a member of the Navy admiral's orchestra; served as a firefighter for the District; and sold antique clocks and furniture in Charlotte Hall, where he lives now.
He has survived six brothers, two sisters, two wives and one son.
At times, Brown loses track of the moment, but he speaks about the past as if it were the present. From a rocking chair in his living room, Brown recalled patrolling the North Atlantic for enemy submarines aboard the USS New Hampshire. He described with scientific precision how he learned to splice ropes and fold his sleeping hammock into a string bean.
Brown reenlisted after the war as a musician on the USS Seattle, traveling to Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia, and developing an appetite that has not diminished with age.
When he left the Navy in 1926, Brown was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 175 pounds. At 103, he is 5 feet 8 inches and 190 pounds, with lively blue eyes and enough white hair to comb.
"As long as I've got plenty of food and relatives nearby, I never get too lonely," he said.