War was Lloyd Brown's chance to get out of the Ozarks.
It was 1918. The 16-year-old Missouri boy lied about his age to get into the Navy. Before he knew it, he was on the gun crew on the battleship USS New Hampshire, climbing 50-foot-tall masts, peering into the waters of the Atlantic for German U-boats and helping capture one.
Mr. Brown, the last surviving Navy veteran of World War I, died Thursday at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in St. Mary's County. He was 105.
His death, barely a week shy of the 90th anniversary of the United States' entry into World War I, came the same week as the death of Charlotte L. Winters, 109, the nation's oldest female military veteran. The deaths leave three known survivors who served in the Army, and a fourth who lives in Washington state but served in the Canadian army, according to Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Phil Budahn.
"It's a shrinking group, and we want to honor this entire generation of Americans," Mr. Budahn said. "Perhaps we don't all realize it, but they were the generation that brought the United States onto the international scene."
Mr. Brown was born Oct. 7, 1901, in Lutie, Mo., a small farming town nestled in the Ozarks. He was the fourth of nine children. When farming the rocky land got tough, the family moved to Chadwick, Mo., a small mountain town that had started booming because of its location on a railroad line linking it to St. Louis. Mr. Brown's father opened a trading post, shipping fresh milk, eggs and ham from southern Missouri to St. Louis.
Mr. Brown sought a different life.
In a 2005 interview with The Sun, he said, "All the young men were going in the service. They were making the headlines, the boys that enlisted. And all the girls liked someone in uniform."
Mr. Brown finished his tour of duty in 1919, took a break for a couple of years, then re-enlisted. He went to musicians school at Norfolk, Va., he said, and learned to play the cello so well that he was assigned to an admiral's 10-piece chamber orchestra aboard the USS Seattle, an armored cruiser that operated in the Pacific.
In the article, he said he was proud of his service but hadn't spent time calculating the cost of war and whether the sacrifice so many made was worth it. "I never gave it much thought," he said.
He married Canadian Ileen Holland on Christmas Eve 1922, and they had a son and daughter. But the marriage fell apart in the late 1920s when she became homesick for her hometown, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, according to Juanita Surles of Lake Charles, La., his daughter from that marriage.
When Mr. Brown finally ended his military career in 1925, he joined the Washington Fire Department's Engine Company 16, which served the White House and embassies.
He later met Sadie Mae Rutherford while he was working as a firefighter in Washington. They married in 1938, settled in the District of Columbia and had two daughters.
Mr. Brown stayed in Washington as a firefighter until the 1950s, then moved his family to Prince George's County and later to Wicomico County on the Eastern Shore. He later retired to Florida with his wife. But Sadie Brown's failing health in the early 1990s brought them back to Maryland in 1993. She died in 1998.
Mr. Brown was an easygoing man, said daughter Ann Veltri of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.
He liked traveling and visited Florida and New Orleans with his daughters.
Mr. Brown remained active and independent even after he had turned 100. He stayed alone in his Charlotte Hall bungalow and drove a golf cart around his neighborhood and to and from the mailbox.
Another daughter, Nancy Espina of Charlotte Hall, said that one afternoon several years ago, he zipped across busy Route 5 on his golf cart to pick up some pipe tobacco and chocolate from a nearby drugstore.
"A trooper stopped him and escorted him all the way back," Mrs. Espina said. "But I think he did that at least two more times after he'd been stopped."
Mr. Brown's health began failing in December, when he collapsed after a blood clot developed in a lung. His kidneys began to fail after that, and he had been in and out of the hospital for the past three months.
"He was always such a healthy man, never sick," Mrs. Veltri said. "So when they were putting the oxygen mask on him and all that, he didn't even know what all that was for."
Services will be held at 4 p.m. tomorrow at Brinsfield-Echols funeral home in Charlotte Hall. Burial will be at noon Tuesday at Our Lady Queen of Peace cemetery in St. Mary's County.
In addition to his daughters, Mr. Brown is survived by 12 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren. His son from his first marriage, Bernard Brown, died in the 1960s.