New Zealand’s oldest person, WWII veteran Ron Hermanns, has died aged 109.
Hermanns passed away peacefully at his Christchurch home on Monday, his neighbor and friend Mike Beard said.
He had 26 days left until his 110th birthday.
Despite his age, he has remained active and lively, and even in recent years he has tinkered in his shed, built fences in his yard, and had fun tinkering and gardening.
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On Anzac Day 2020, Hermanns braved the dawn chill to sit at the end of his driveway and listen to bugles blaring through his neighborhood, parades and traditional official services canceled for the first time since 1916 in due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A photo of him as he stood quietly to attention was posted online and has gone viral around the world.
âLongevity is one of those things that happens, but he was more than that – he was an exceptional person,â Beard said. Thing.
âHe was a gifted man. He had the rare combination of great intelligence and manual dexterity.
“He spent his life solving problems, thinking of new ways of doing things, and continued to do so until the last days of his life.”
Beard said neighbors and local store workers saw him “almost like an institution.”
Hermanns fell ill after falling three months ago and, despite a rally, has fallen in recent weeks.
âHe stayed home because a lot of people who were his friends allowed him to do it because they acted as his caregivers,â Beard said.
âI will miss him and many other people who have cared for him over the past few months. “
Asked about the secret to his long life in 2019, Hermanns said he never had any interest in sports or exercise, and his neighbor Katherine Ryan said he turned his nose to vegetables.
âMy doctor said to me: is there anything unusual about your lifestyle? I said, well, I never got married. He said, ooh, that makes your life easier then.
Although he did not get married, Hermanns leaves behind a niece, Joy Windelev, who lives in Upper Hutt, and a nephew, John Fickling.
His death means Joan Brennan of Auckland, a few months younger at 109, and fellow World War II veteran Bill Mitchell, 108, are now considered the oldest New Zealanders alive.
Defense Minister Peeni Henare praised the life of Hermanns, thanking him for his “incredible service to the Royal New Zealand Air Force and to New Zealand”.
âLike many others, I was looking forward to congratulating Mr Hermanns on his 110th birthday in a few weeks, but unfortunately that was not the case.
“I wish to extend my condolences to Mr. Hermann’s friends and to WhÄnau at this sad time as they bid him farewell and celebrate all of his accomplishments during his very long and prosperous life.”
Born in Canada on September 25, 1911 – before World War I, before the sinking of the Titanic and most likely when some of Canterbury’s early settlers were still alive – Hermanns and his family moved to Wellington in 1914.
After school he became an engineering apprentice, working on the assembly line at the General Motors plant in Petone and later as a railroad turner and assembler.
But the impending war inspired Ron to turn to his first love – flying.
JOSEPH JOHNSON / STUFF
Ron Hermanns recalls his WWII service experiences in an interview with Stuff in April 2020.
Joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force at the start of the war in 1939 after two years in the Territorial Air Force, Hermanns served as an aeronautical engineer in the Pacific during World War II, building and maintaining airplanes.
Posted to Espiritu Santo in 1943, the largest island in the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu, Hermanns and his fellow airmen lived in tents and huts hidden among coconut, coffee and cotton plantations, working from runways landing gear that had been fitted out before the war.
âSometimes the enemy would come at night and they couldn’t see us,â Hermanns said.
âThe planes we had were in the open of course, so they bombed those they could see. We would go to the airstrip during the day and find that the planes had been bombed and destroyed.
With secrecy paramount, diaries and photos were banned – but Hermanns and his comrades still managed to make a camera out of parts that were illegally shipped to them, and he wrote home letters containing carefully coded messages to tell his family where he served.
He also created art in his spare time, intricate jewelry and keepsakes from seashells, bamboo, and artifacts he salvaged for sale to American troops on the island.
Many of these works of art are now in the Air Force Museum in Wigram, his letters – later turned into a diary – held by the Alexander Turnbull Library.
He then served at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, where he was fortunate enough to escape after a plane carrying bombs crashed near his workplace.
After the war and leaving the Air Force in 1947, he became an aeronautical engineer then a senior instructor at the aeronautical engineering workshops at Christchurch airport, first for the National Airways Corporation then for Air New Zealand, before to retire in 1976.
Despite his years of service, Hermanns did not receive his medals – among which were the 1939-45 Star, the Pacific Star, the Defense Medal, the 1939-45 War Medal and the 1939-45 War Service Medal. New Zealand – only in 2010, having refused them, along with other soldiers, for 65 years because they did not bear their name.
It was Beard’s wife, Joy Monteath, who also looked after him for many years, who persuaded him to finally apply for them.
In recent years he has been living independently at home with the help of his friends and has been helped more recently by nurse Maude.
In 2019, he celebrated his 108th birthday at the Air Force Museum in Wigram, Christchurch, alongside fellow veteran Bill Mitchell, 106, then Defense Minister Ron Mark and current service staff, surrounded by the planes on which he worked so long ago.
A celebration of his life will take place in the coming weeks.