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Charlotte Winters, 109; was veteran of WWI

Charlotte Winters, at a birthday gathering honoring her 109th birthday in November near Boonsboro, Md., was the last known surviving American female veteran of World War I. (Ric Dugan/The Herald-Mail/file 2006)

BOONSBORO, Md. -- The last known surviving American female veteran of World War I, a refined Civil War buff who met face-to-face with the secretary of the Navy to fight for women in the military, has died. She was 109.

Charlotte Winters died Tuesday at a nursing home in northwest Maryland, the US Naval District in Washington said in a statement.

Her death leaves just five known surviving American World War I veterans.

In 1916, Mrs. Winters met with Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to persuade him to allow women in the service, said Kelly Auber, who grew up on South Mountain, where Mrs. Winters and her husband, John, had settled.

When the Navy opened support roles to women in 1917, Mrs. Winters and her sister, Sophie, joined immediately, Auber said. By December 1918, more than 11,000 women had enlisted and were serving in support positions, the Naval District said. Mrs. Winters served as a secretary and in a gun factory.

It would be two more years before women won the right to vote.

Mrs. Winters retired from the US Naval Reserve in 1953 with the rank of yeoman.

Friends said she was proud of her role but didn't like to be fussed over as she grew older and fewer and fewer WWI veterans were alive.

"Why are they doing this for me? I don't deserve all this," Doug Bast of Boonsboro recalled her saying.

Auber said Mrs. Winters was "an absolutely refined lady" who with her husband was fond of traveling the country looking for burial spots of fallen Civil War generals.

"She was very proud of her accomplishments, and when asked, she'd say it was the thing to do, to be patriotic. And, she was very patriotic," Auber told The Hagerstown Herald-Mail.