France honors WWI soldiers after death of last veteran

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France held a ceremony on Monday in honor of its last World War I veteran and the other 8.5 million French soldiers who fought in the four-year conflict.

PARIS, March 17 (RIA Novosti) - France held a ceremony on Monday in honor of its last World War I veteran and the other 8.5 million French soldiers who fought in the four-year conflict.

Italian-born Lazare Ponticelli died on Wednesday at the age of 110. He was one of the world's few surviving veterans of the Great War, which ended almost 90 years ago in November 1918.

The Roman Catholic funeral ceremony was held at Les Invalides in Paris, a vast complex of museums and monuments that also contains a war veterans' retirement home.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former president Jacques Chirac attended the Mass, along with top government officials and members of Ponticelli's family.

Chirac had offered Ponticelli a state funeral, but the veteran initially declined, saying it would be disrespectful to others who fought in the war and were not commemorated. He later relented, but insisted that the ceremony be dedicated to all 8.5 million French veterans.

France lost about 1.3 million people in the war.

In stark contrast to today's lavish ceremony, the death of Germany's last World War I veteran, Erich Kastner, passed unmarked last month.

Lazare Ponticelli was born on December 7, 1897 in Bettola, north Italy, and joined the French Foreign Legion in 1914, at the age of 16. He received French citizenship in 1939.

 

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