Philip Kahn, a 100-year-old World War II veteran from Long Island, New York, died on 17 April, due to COVID-19. However, the centenarian's demise had a stark connection to another pandemic, the Spanish flu. According to late veteran's grandson, Kahn's twin brother succumbed to Spanish influenza in 1919, only a few months after their birth.
Warren Zysman, Kahn's grandson, said that his grandfather harboured fears of witnessing another pandemic in his lifetime and raised the subject frequently. "I would have conversations with him, he would say to me, 'I told you history repeats itself, 100 years is not that long of a period of time," Zysman told CNN.
Kahn had served as a sergeant in the US Army Air Force during WWII, and received two Bronze Battle Stars for his service during the war. Along with being a co-pilot, he was also an engineer and was responsible for ensuring that the warplanes were fueled. Post the war, he worked as an electrical foreman in the famed, yet ill-fated World Trade Center.
Two brothers, two pandemics
Philip Kahn was born on December 5, 1919, along with his twin, Samuel. According to Zysman, Samuel died a few days later due to the Spanish flu.
Considered one of the most lethal pandemics in modern history, Spanish influenza, which lasted between 1918-1920, killed an estimated 50 million people across the world. The death toll in the United States alone mounted to 675,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Aware about the spreading pandemic
The veteran was aware about the pandemic and the developments surrounding its spread. He kept himself informed by watching the news on television. His grandson said that during the few days before his death, Kahn suffered from coughing and other respiratory symptoms characteristic of the coronavirus infection.
Incidentally, Kahn suspected that he was likely infected by the disease. While he received a COVID-19 test, he passed away before the results were made available to his family.
Keeping his brother's memory alive
Zysman said that his grandfather often remembered his twin and expressed grief over having not been able to know him. "It clearly made a hole in his heart that he never got to meet his twin and that his twin died a few weeks after birth," he narrated.
Towards the end of his life, Kahn's remembrance of his brother became frequent said his grandson. "He talked about his brother a lot in the last few days," Zysman said.
Hoped for a military funeral
Being the veteran of a war that shaped the 21st century, Kahn wished for a military funeral on his passing. "He had always wanted a large military funeral, but we weren't able to provide that to him," said Zysman.
However, Kahn's wishes were fulfilled in some way. The cemetery enrolled two people serving in the armed forces to conduct a military funeral for Kahn. A man, whose father was a US Marine during the second world war, played the bugle.
Zysman added, "He volunteered because the Air Force protected the Marines by providing cover for them and he felt it was a honor to do this for my grandpa."
Sampson Lester Friedman, Kahn's friend, and fellow soldier during the war, who attended the funeral, fondly remembered him and said, "[There was] something about him that was very very special. On our airplane, he was an engineer, and he was the hardest working guy aboard that airplane."