Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Dr. Earl Russell Fox

Dr. Earl Fox, who had been last active-duty World War II veteran, dies at 93

ST. PETERSBURG — Fifty-five years after Allied troops landed at Normandy and Audie Murphy single-handedly wiped out a German machine gun nest, one World War II veteran remained on active duty.

His name was Dr. Earl Fox, and he had served in the Navy and, later, as a flight surgeon in the Coast Guard. For 23 years in between, he practiced rheumatology and general medicine in St. Petersburg and served in the Naval Reserve. He was a quiet, determined man who loved medicine, and changed course several times in the way he practiced it.

Dr. Fox died Sept. 23 of cancer. A resident of St. Petersburg since the early 1950s, he had lived in the Lynchburg, Va., area for about a year.

Some unusual circumstances combined to make Dr. Fox the last World War II veteran on active duty, including age waivers twice issued by the Coast Guard. He learned of his unique status by the late 1990s as he neared retirement.

A colorful life almost ended before it began. The son of a lieutenant colonel, Earl Russell Fox was born in an Army hospital on Sept. 23, 1919, in Fort Eustis, Va. — and left for dead.

"They thought he was stillborn," said his son, Dr. Parham Fox, a Lynchburg radiologist. "They put him in a bin with the dirty laundry. The doctor was consoling my granddad."

The men returned to the laundry to verify the baby's gender, and found him crying.

Dr. Fox went on to the University of Richmond, where he served as class president and quarterback of the football team.

He was commissioned into the Navy and commanded a PT boat in the battles of Midway and Aleutians, in the same squadron as a young John F. Kennedy, Dr. Fox's family said.

Near the Aleutian Islands, Dr. Fox's crew had to abandon a grounded PT boat for rafts. Others discovered the abandoned boat and shipped his belongings in a box to his wife, the former Reba Booker.

What they did not know was that Eskimos had taken Dr. Fox in, and clothed and fed him until he could be reunited with his fellow seamen.

Once again, Dr. Fox had cheated death. He earned a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for his service.

He moved his family to St. Petersburg and interned at what is now Bayfront Medical Center. For the next 23 years, he practiced general medicine and rheumatology, an outgrowth of seeing elderly patients. He raced sailboats and was commodore of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

His career took a sharp turn at age 55, when Dr. Fox, a longtime member of the Naval Reserve, decided he wanted to become a flight surgeon in the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard liked the idea because Dr. Fox had both medical knowledge and an understanding of life at sea. Authorities allowed him to enter despite his age.

He jumped at one of his first training assignments: learn to fly a helicopter.

"He had all these hotshots from Vietnam who were teaching him helicopters," Parham Fox said. "All of a sudden he went from 55 years old to about 40 years old."

He was stationed at Elizabeth City, N.C.; Cape May, N.J.; Governors Island, N.Y.; and the Pentagon. Authorities considered his work on a disability review board so valuable that they once again granted Dr. Fox an exception to mandatory age limits.

By his late 70s, Dr. Fox learned that of the 16 million people who were in the armed forces during World War II, only he was still serving.

"He didn't talk about it much," his son said, adding that the distinction made his father both "modest and proud."

Nor, until the last decade or so of his life, did Dr. Fox have much to say about any of his wartime experiences.

"If you asked him, he would go on and tell you about himself," Parham Fox said. "But you had to ask him."

On Nov. 11, 1999, at a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, President Bill Clinton recognized Dr. Fox, then a captain and senior medical officer in Washington, D.C., as the last World War II veteran still on active duty. After the ceremony, family members were invited to the White House.

"My dad was not politically in Clinton's camp," said Parham Fox, who could not attend the ceremony. "But he said when the guy walked into the room, you just liked him immediately."

Many of his patients felt the same way about Dr. Fox, who taught his son to regard medicine as a public service. "He said the greatest good you can do is to serve others," his son said.

Dr. Fox died on his 93rd birthday.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (727) 892-2248.


Dr. Earl Russell Fox

Born: Sept. 23, 1919

Died: Sept. 23, 2012

Survivors: sons, Dr. Parham "Cholly" Fox, Earl Fox and Thomas Fox; brothers, Jack Fox and the Hon. James J. Fox; six grandchildren; six great-grandchildren.

Dr. Earl Fox, who had been last active-duty World War II veteran, dies at 93 10/06/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 6, 2012 10:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Sign up for our daily News at Noon email newsletter


    The Tampa Bay Times will soon launch a daily newsletter called News at Noon. You can make sure to be among the first to receive it by signing up now.

  2. Tampa Bay child welfare agencies get additional state funding, plan to hire more social workers


    TAMPA — Buoyed by the award of an additional $3 million in state funding, Eckerd Kids plans to hire more social workers to ease the strain on Hillsborough County's overburdened child welfare system.

    The child welfare system in Hillsborough County will get an additional $3 million in funding for the upcoming fiscal  year beginning July 1, according to Eckerd Kids, the agency contracted to run the system by the state.
  3. Bill Nelson knocks Rick Scott over Senate health bill


    Sen. Bill Nelson attacked Gov. Rick Scott, his likely 2018 rival, over today's trip to Washington.

  4. For starters: Rays at Pirates, with Hechavarria active, Robertson sent down


    UPDATE, 3:26: And the Rays indeed have Hechavarria at SS and Beckham at 2B. Also, with no DH Dickerson is in left.

    Rays lineup:
    Smith cf,
    Dickerson lf,
    Longoria 3b,
    Morrison 1b,
    Souza rf,
    Ramos c,
    Beckham 2b,
    Hechavarria ss,
    Cobb p

    The stellar view from the press box at PNC Park.
  5. LaVar Ball appears at WWE event, son LaMelo uses slur


    LOS ANGELES  -- LaVar Ball has brought his Big Baller Brand from the basketball court to the wrestling ring. 
    The outspoken father of NBA Draft No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball showed up with the newly-minted Los Angeles Laker and another son, 15-year-old son LaMelo, for a live segment on Monday's "WWE …

    LaVar Ball took off his shirt during a WWE broadcast.