French WWI Veteran Dies at Age 108

The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 16, 2007; 12:59 PM

PARIS -- One of France's last World War I veterans, Rene Riffaud, has died at age 108, leaving just three known French survivors of the 1914-18 conflict, the National Veterans Office said Tuesday. Riffaud died overnight Tuesday, said Marie-Georges Vingadassalon, a spokeswoman for the office.

Of the three surviving World War I veterans, the oldest _ Louis de Cazenave _ is 109, according to the veterans' office.

Only belatedly, in 2006, did France recognize Riffaud as a veteran of the war, giving him an official veteran's card after his granddaughter brought his case to the government's attention.

In a November interview with The Associated Press before attending Armistice Day commemorations in Paris, Riffaud played down his war role.

"I did like everyone else, I went with the flow. I was mobilized like all other citizens," he said.

"The war was a massacre," he said. "There was a lot of destruction, lots of spite and lots of heartbreak for everyone. It must not happen again."

The Veterans Office said he was born Dec. 12, 1898, in Tunisia and joined a colonial artillery unit in April 1917.

His wife, Lucie, died in 1979. They were married in 1930, the veterans office said. It said he had one son, who also has died, and three granddaughters.

He worked as an electrician after his demobilization, and opened his own electrical repairs company.

He told the AP he was in a village in eastern France when the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918.

"We were guarding a bridge. An officer arrived and told us that the armistice had just been signed," he said. "We went to town to celebrate, to eat bread that wasn't blackened, and we amused ourselves by watching the flights of geese taking off to go and bathe in the Rhine."

Commemorations nationwide are expected to mark the death of the last member of France's revered club of officially recognized "poilus" _ meaning hairy or tough _ as it calls its veterans from the 1914-18 war.


© 2007 The Associated Press