At age 107, Rene Riffaud has only hazy memories of his part in the "war to end all wars," but he's crystal clear about why, only now, France has inducted him into the small and shrinking band of hallowed World War I survivors.
Simply put, Riffaud figured that those who died were the ones who deserved the recognition: "I was more worried with living than looking back to the past," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
France, belatedly, disagrees. This week, the veterans minister approved a request from Riffaud's granddaughter that he be given an official veteran's card nearly 88 years after the war ended.
That decision, and the rediscovery of another veteran thought to have died, has bumped France's tally of World War I survivors up to seven a remarkable development raising the possibility that there may be others out there.
The issue of how many survivors France still has is important not least because the death of the last veteran is expected to be marked by commemorations nationwide.
Riffaud and Francois Jaffre, 104, join France's revered club of officially recognized "poilus" meaning hairy or tough as France calls its vets from the 1914-1918 war.
Jaffre had been on the lists of the national veterans office, but slipped off when he didn't tell officials he had moved from Paris to a retirement home in the suburban Yvelines region.
"We thought he was dead," said Farida Cherkaoui, a spokeswoman for the veterans' minister. Jaffre finally re-registered, "and that is why he has reappeared," she added.
She said she had no details about his record in the war. According to the Friday edition of the daily Le Monde, Jaffre joined the navy at age 16, in September 1917, and served on a submarine-hunter escorting American troop ships from New York to France.
Riffaud's granddaughter brought his case to official attention, applying last year for his veterans card. Hamlaoui Mekachera, France's veterans minister, signed off on the request Thursday, his office said.
"We are very happy. Instead of there being five of them, there are seven, and I hope that they will remain among us for a very long time," the minister said Friday on LCI television.
Mekachera said he doesn't expect many more to de discovered, but said, "It is not impossible that we could discover some ... There have been two cases in one week", reports AP.
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