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Alfred Pugh, 108, veteran of WWI

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Alfred Pugh, the last known combat-wounded US veteran of World War I, died Wednesday, 10 days short of his 109th birthday.

Mr. Pugh, an Everett native who often told visitors the key to a long life is "keep breathing," joined the Army in 1917 and fought in France during World War I with the 77th Infantry Division. In 1918, he was wounded during the Meusse-Argonne offensive, one of the war's bloodiest battles.

He died at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Bay Pines. Virginia officials said he was the oldest wounded combat veteran in the United States, and one of fewer than 1,000 remaining American World War I veterans.

Friends said he loved the attention that came with being known as the oldest wounded combat veteran in the United States. "It tickled him when the classes would come by the busload to see him," said Mr. Pugh's niece, Carolyn Layton.

Born Jan. 17, 1895, in Everett, Mr. Pugh raised 16 foster children, played the organ into his 100s, and was a football and baseball fan.

He is one of 10 veterans profiled in the book, "The Price of their Blood," published last month and coauthored by Jesse Brown, former US secretary of Veterans Affairs.

He spoke French and was used overseas as an interpreter until the battle in the Argonne forest, when he inhaled mustard gas that left him unconscious and with chronic laryngitis.

"It was like a fog," Mr. Pugh said in an interview in 2002. "We didn't get any gas masks until the day after it happened."

After the war he returned to Maine and worked as a railroad telegraph operator for 12 years before delivering mail for 26 years. He moved to Florida in 1971.

In 1999 he was named chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor, a prestigious medal bestowed by the French government.

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