Robley Henry Rex, a World War I-era Army veteran renowned and beloved for his volunteer service to other veterans, died yesterday at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville just four days short of his 108th birthday.
Rex was born May 2, 1901, in Hopkinsville, Ky. He credited his longevity to his wife of 69 years, the former Gracie Bivins, who died in 1992 at 91.
"I married the right woman," Rex always said. He called her "the smartest woman in the world."
The two met at Camp Taylor in Louisville in 1919 before he was sent overseas with the Army. They married in 1922 when he returned to the United States.
Mary Jane Crowder, director of volunteer services at the VA center on Zorn Avenue, said Rex "was very much a role model to veterans, and we hear that over and over."
Rex was well-known to staff and patients at the center, where he was still volunteering three days a week when he was 105. He had logged more than 14,000 volunteer hours at the hospital since 1986, delivering charts and records along with the mail. He often chatted with patients or, being an ordained Methodist minister, shared a prayer with them.
Rex never saw combat, having enlisted after the armistice was signed. He was assigned to a military intelligence unit at the 3rd Army Headquarters in Germany -- an 18-year-old, 115-pound Army private.
"I did what they told me," he once said.
He was quoted as saying that when he landed in France, commanders asked if anyone could handle a typewriter. "God lifted my hand. … I went in to keep a chair warm."
He boxed as an Army flyweight in Europe against other U.S. soldiers and was given the name "Kid Rex." He said he lost more fights than he won.
Once back home and married, Rex farmed for 23 years in Daviess County, growing tobacco, corn and hay. He and his wife later moved to Louisville, where he retired as a railway postal clerk.
A WWI-era veteran is one who enlisted after the Armistice was signed on 11 Nov 1918, but before the Treaty of Versailles (signed on 28 Jun 1919), which actually ended World War I, became effective on 10 Jan 1920.
There are now six verified WWI veterans (those who served before the Armistice) still living - three British, and one each Australian, Canadian and US - as well as one unverified WWI veteran (British) and two WWI-era vets (one Brazilian and one Polish).