FORT JENNINGS — On Saturday, Putnam County veterans said goodbye to Bernard H. Calvelage, said to be the last World War II veteran member at the Fort Jennings American Legion. He died Nov. 4. Four days earlier, he was presented with an eagle statue draped with the American flag, a certificate and U.S. flag from Congressman Bob Latta, and the American Legion Medal of Merit by members of the Col. Jennings Post 715.
“It was an honor and privilege to present these small tokens of appreciation to Bernie, especially as he was our only living World War II veteran at American Legion Post 715. We had already planned on honoring him for Veterans Day this year, we just moved them forward a few weeks,” said Randy Gasser, commander of Post 715.
Calvelage, who lived to age 95, was drafted as a senior in high school and departed for boot camp with two of his classmates prior to their high school commencement ceremony.
He was a drill sergeant, serving at Camp Croft in South Carolina from 1943 to 1945. He helped train troops before they went overseas.
“Only lately my father started telling stories about his Army service during World War II. It’s been interesting and fun,” said Cheryl Calvelage Kitson, Bernie’s daughter.
At his funeral Saturday, 35 veterans were present to give him a final salute.
“It was amazing. Normally we do military rites and you just get a handful of people at the funeral home. We actually called every single veteran in our post, and Ottoville helped a lot too. The last-minute is tough to pull people away, especially with COVID, they’re leery to go out. But we had six people at the church, two with the honor rifles, two with flags and two other people saluting as the casket, left the church and went to the hearse, and then the rest of them was down at the cemetery,” Gasser said.
Those who fought in World War II are dying at a rate of 296 every day. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 325,574 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2020. In Ohio, that number has dwindled to 12,175 as of Sept. 30.
There are an estimated 14 World War II veterans left in Putnam County according to Gasser and another eight to 10 left in Allen County, according to Steve Montgomery, veterans service commissioner in Allen County. Ken Kohlrieser, a veterans service commissioner in Auglaize County, wasn’t aware of any surviving World War II veterans there.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.