The White Shoe Irregular:
It was fun while it lasted.

Honoring the 112th Birthday of World War I Veteran John Painter

Representative Bart Gordon

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to wish a happy 112th birthday to Tennessee's oldest surviving World War I veteran, John George Painter of Hermitage Springs. He is also believed to be the nation's oldest surviving veteran.

Born on September 20, 1888, in the Keeling Branch community of Jackson County, Tennessee, Mr. Painter enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 29 to fight what was then called the "War to End All Wars."

Mr. Painter saw action in France's Argonne Forest where he hauled ammunition and field guns to the front lines with teams of horses and mules. He was honorably discharged on April 12, 1919, and returned home to Jackson County where he resumed his career as a blacksmith. There he married his childhood sweetheart — the former Gillie Watson — and raised two daughters.

Mr. Painter's courage during that brutal war earned him one of France's highest honors, the Order of the Legion of Honor. Only five other Tennesseans have received the distinguished award.

As we celebrate Mr. Painter's birthday today, I congratulate him for the tremendous contributions he has made to the United States and to the never-ending fight for freedom.

[Taken from the Congressional Record, 20 September 2000, page E1539.]

[Redactor's Note: Alert reader Robert Young, of the Gerontology Research Group, writes in to point out that Representative Gordon's tribute, though well-intentioned, was slightly off the mark:

"I would like to point out that John Painter, allegedly America's oldest veteran at 112 (Sept 20, 1888 – March 1, 2001), was listed in the 1920 census as 28 years old, which means he was born Sept 20, 1891 and was 109 years old when he died March 1, 2001.

"Competing claimant Will Charles Smith of Sneads, FL claimed to also be 112 when he died Apr. 19, 2001. His social security registation listed him as born Jan 1, 1891, which means he was likely 110, not 112, when he died Apr. 19, 2001.

"What this means is that the John Painter story was a sham. He was never the oldest veteran, having been 109 years old when Mr. Smith was 110. The fact that both exaggerated their age, even by a little bit, shows the importance of age validation …

"Incidentally, the current oldest living veteran, Robert Hodges, was allegedly born June 10, 1888 — but the Veterans Administration was having none of this nonsense this time around. They list him as born June 10, 1891 (based on actual records), which makes him 111 — old, but if he were 114 he'd be the world's oldest man, which he isn't."]