4 elderly soldiers who remained badasses well into retirement

old soldiers
General Mannerheim leading the White Victory Parade in Helsinki, 16 May 1918.

When duty calls, many soldiers feel honor bound to answer that call, no matter how old they might be. “Males of military age” is actually a relatively recent concept, because historically,  an invader with the goal of slaughtering your people doesn’t really see age as a discriminating factor. When you’re fighting for survival, every age is military age. 

There are other reasons old soldiers come out of retirement, or to not retire at all. Patriotism and love of country, to fight for their country’s right to exist, or maybe even because they love the thrill of killing their enemies. Either way, it happens more than one might think, even for those in their 70s and 80s. Crank up some “Fortunate Son” and check out these four magnificent old dirt chewers.

Here are 4 very elderly soldiers who remained badasses well into retirement

1. Samuel Whittemore

Whittemore was born in 1696, and should have died in 1775 – but it’s hard to keep a good man down. He was an elderly veteran by the time the American colonies rebelled against British rule. He was almost 50 when he fought in King George’s War in 1774, and was over 60 when he served in the French and Indian War.

When he spotted a British column returning from fighting American militias near Lexington and Concord, the old soldier decided to take them on, by himself. Armed with a musket, two dueling pistols, and a sword he killed three British soldiers and charged the rest, sword drawn. He was shot in the face, bayoneted, and left for dead. When colonials found him, he was in a pool of blood, trying to reload his musket. He was expected to die of his wounds, but lived another 18 years.

samuel whittemore monument
Samuel Whittemore monument in Arlington, Massachusetts.

2. Jean Thurel

It’s rare to hear about anyone born in the 1600s who lived into the 1800s, but the man who did it was Jean Thurel, a French fusilier who cheated death for 107 years. He was born in 1698, joined the Army of King Louis XIV at age 18, and continued serving under the Emperor, Napoleon I. He served in the same regiment for 75 years. 

It wasn’t without its close calls, however. He was shot in the chest during the 1733 Siege of Kehl. At the 1759 Battle of Minden, he was slashed with a sword, taking seven hits to the head. Through his whole career, he refused a promotion, and was a low-ranking fusilier his entire life. When he finally left the service, he was known as “The Oldest Soldier in Europe.”

jean thurel was one of the famous old soldiers
Jean Thurel, fusilier of the Touraine Regiment at 89 years of age.

3. William Hiseland

While most of us are planning to die of old age at 89, William Hiseland was planning to cheat death in combat. Born in 1620, Hiseland joined the English Army in 1633, at just 13 years old. It was just in time to fight the many wars England had coming. He fought the Royalist cause in the First English Civil War – the whole of the nearly ten-year war. 

His last battle was the 1709 Battle of Malplaquet, during the War of the Spanish Succession, when he was 89 years old. After the battle, he retired to the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, where he lived on a pension until he died at age 111. 

william hiseland was one of the old soldiers of history
Portrait of Haseland, from the museum of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.

4. Field Marshall C.G.E. Mannerheim

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim was born in 1867, two years after the American Civil War Ended and lived until 1951. He joined the Imperial Russian Cavalry in 1882 and fought for Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, conducted counterintelligence in China, and fought the Austro-Hungarians during World War I. 

When Finland declared independence from Soviet Russia, he led the White forces against the Soviet Red Guards, then fought them again in the Winter War and the Continuation War (Finland’s narrow role in World War II), before fighting the Nazis for control of Lapland – all while in his late 70s. After WWII, he would become President of Finland.