France's last remaining veteran of World War I died yesterday at 110 having outlived 8.4 million Frenchmen who fought in "la Grande Guerre."
Lazare Ponticelli, who was born in Italy but chose to fight for France and was a French citizen for most of the 20th century, died at his home in the Paris suburb of Kremlin-Bicetre.
France planned a national funeral ceremony Monday honoring Ponticelli and all the "poilus," an affectionate term meaning hairy or tough that the French use for their soldiers who fought in World War I.
A handful of World War I veterans are still living, scattered from Australia to the United States and Europe. Germany's last WWI veteran died on New Year's Day.
Ponticelli was born Dec. 7, 1897, in Bettola, in northern Italy. He left at 9 to join his brothers in Paris, eventually becoming a French citizen. He worked as a chimney sweep and then as a newspaper boy. When the war broke out, he was just 16, so he lied about his age to enlist.
Ponticelli joined the Foreign Legion during the war and served in the Argonne region of forest, rivers and lakes in northeast France, digging burial pits and trenches.
When Italy entered the war in 1915, Ponticelli was called up to fight with an Italian Alpine regiment. He tried to hide, but was found and sent to fight the Austrian army.
He described moments of fraternity with enemy Austrian soldiers.