Old soldiers never die; they just fade away
The old soldier is the grizzled veteran who has been through and seen everything in war. He would more than qualify for being a Shell-Shocked Senior
, both in age and experience, but he's still going into battle and odds are that he's the backbone of whatever unit he or (more rarely) she is in. This character type is almost never an officer or a commander, and is instead usually a Sergeant Rock
. Generally you can expect them to be tough, to have a few badass scars
, and to be eternally pissed off at (or at least exasperated by) the younger troops around him. Despite that, he may still turn out to be one of the best sources of mentoring or seasoning
a young soldier can get.
Expect the Officer and a Gentleman
to rely on him quite a bit in running the unit, ala Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough
. Ensign Newbie
, on the other hand, will rarely know to do this or will actively tick off the old soldier in attempting to control a unit, a mistake he usually pays for. Despite the first page quote, old soldiers have about a 50-50 chance of dying in a work of fiction, but usually not until rather late in the story, generally in a Heroic Sacrifice
of some kind or in a suitably impressive way. If this character dies early in a story, odds are you're dealing with a story on the cynical end of the scale
, and that it's going to have a high mortality rate
If the soldier is too
old to fight, or too battered
), but denies that fact, he may be a Perilous Old Fool
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Anime & Manga
- The Captain Commander Genryusai Yamamoto of Bleach. The leader of the shinigami and by far the oldest, he's been around so long and been part of so many battles that he's nearly impossible to beat in a one-on-one fight. He's more heavily scarred than any of the other shinigami, and tends to refer to other characters as "brats", and won't hesitate to belittle them if he thinks they aren't living up to their role as protectors of the spirit world.
- Naruto offers Hiruzen Sarutobi and Onoki, the Third Hokage and Tsuchikage respectively. Both were students of the founding leader of their respective villages and have lived through three Shinobi World Wars. Despite their power and skill both are also notably past their prime, Hiruzen's chakra pool having dwindled due to age and Onoki suffering literally debilitating back pains. Danzo also qualifies to an extent, but has notably taken to avoiding direct battle in his old age due to his fear of death.
- In one of the Star Wars Expanded Universe "Empire" comic lines, The Rebellion finds Able, an old clone trooper who has been living in the wilderness since the Clone Wars. He eventually gets incorporated in Luke's unit and proves to be the best, if most cynical, soldier there and looks out for Luke until the whole unit gets wiped out by The Virus.
- Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? has Batman coming face to face with a vision of his mother (whether it's a Dying Dream, regular dream, Fear Gas trip, genuine psychic vision etc. is never revealed) that basically pegs him as this. She says that none of the various Batman versions in the multiverse ever give up. They keep fighting until they drop, whether it's saving the world or a single person, whether on his first time out or his thousandth. Also, she states that he never goes to Heaven or Hell, instead his afterlife reward is to be Batman. The same soul is continually reincarnated into every universe to keep up the fight, making Batman older than every single superhero in DC and Marvel combined seeing as at one point there were infinite universes. Whether or not this is true is up for debate, though the ending seems to show him being reborn as a baby.
- Wallace from Sin City has utilizes this trope, although he's a bit more laid back than most versions. Most people don't realize that he is a retired Navy Seal until he has to prove it to them.
- Wolverine is sometimes written this way. You could especially see it in the late 80s, when he was Storm's second-in-command in the X-Men.
- Astro City has a superhero called the Old Soldier, who seems to turn up whenever America needs him most. He was seen in combat in 1812, 1862, 1915 and 1942. However he stood against American soldiers in Vietnam, which was a massive propaganda loss for Richard Nixon and was seen as a general sign that times were getting worse.
- Played with in Shell Shock. Sergeant Armor isn't very old, but he's got all the bad temper, PTSD, and sadism that comes from a long time at war.
- The titular uncle of Songs Uncle Sings is a much lighter and softer version of this trope, as his days of war are long past him, he's foundhis own personal piece, and he's taken up being a musician. He even tells his nephew an amusing anecdote about his days in training.
- In Worldwar: War of Equals, The Vietnamese Defense Ministry re-recruits many Vietnam War vets to train their current generation of soldiers in guerrilla warfare against the alien menace.
- We Were Soldiers: Sergeant Major Basil Plumley. Both the real one and the character played by Sam Elliott.
- Heartbreak Ridge: Gunnery Sergeant Highway. Being played by Clint Eastwood helps.
- Stripes: Warren Oates as Sergeant Hulka.
- The Thin Red Line: Nick Nolte as Lieutenant Colonel Tall. They don't come much more grizzled.
- The Big Red One: Lee Marvin, a WWII veteran himself, plays the part of "The Sergeant," who is a WWI veteran in this film about WWII filmed in the 1980s.
- The Dirty Dozen: Lee Marvin as an old major, then reprises his role 18 years later in "The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission," which takes place in the same timeframe as the first movie.
- Several of the characters in George Mac Donald Fraser's McAuslan series, particularly the Colonel, and Wee Wullie, the battalion disciplinary problem, both of whom joined up in 1914 and are still there in 1947.
- The narrator in Elfstruck found here.
- Les Dillon, a Marine sergeant from a Harry Turtledove pair of novels where in World War II Japan invaded Hawaii rather than simply bombing it.
- Broxigar "The Red Axe" of Warcraft definitely qualifies. As an orc who lived through the wars of all three games, he was greatly respected by Thrall and revered by the soldiers. Despite his age and maturity, he gets a good amount of Character Development through his Survivor Guilt.
- Sergeant Jackrum from Monstrous Regiment has been on the Borigovian Army's payroll for six decadesnote . His most recent term of service was supposed to be twelve years, and he managed to keep ahead of the discharge papers for another four years after that.
- And though not technically soldiers, the Silver Horde consists of barbarian adventurers who are all at least eighty. The fact that they are all still alive after more than half a century each - in a line of work that kills most people that go into it in a year or two - means that they are very, very good at not getting killed.
- Kat from All Quiet on the Western Front.
- The Reynard Cycle: Grymbart, a mercenary with a wife in every major city, plays this straight. He's the first man onboard the Quicksilver to befriend Reynard.
- Starship Troopers: Sergeant Zim (no relation), and a few other veterans like Jelal probably qualify.
- Ser Rodrik Cassel from A Song of Ice and Fire. A tough, loyal, dependable and sensible knight, who, unfortunately, is very much given the short end of the stick in the series. Barristan the Bold A.K.A Barristan the Old from the also qualifies.
- In the Harry Potter books, Aurors are somewhere between cops, spies, and soldiers, but Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody and Rufus Scrimgeour unquestionably fit this trope. Mad-Eye specifically is covered with war wounds, he's an old friend and confidant of Dumbledore's and considered by Dumbledore to be the most trustworthy and reliable wizard in England. Sure enough, when the Order of the Phoenix gets back together (with many roster changes) Moody is part of its backbone. His death early in the last book is a big sign of just how harrowing things are going to be.
- The Warlord Chronicles: Most of the characters who survive until the third book are Old Soldiers. Sagramor, who has been a soldier nearly his entire life and main character Derfel are major examples, but one of the coolest examples is Culhwch. There's a bit very close to the end of the series where he walks out in the space between two opposing armies and dares someone from the other side to try to become famous by killing him in single combat. When no one comes out, Culhwch taunts the entire army about their cowardice and reluctance to take on a bald old man. When Culhwch turns his back to return to his own side, one of the enemy Mooks does in fact try to backstab him, but Culhwch effortlessly guts the poor bastard. He then waits for a minute to see if anyone else is going to come forward before really returning to his place in the shield wall.
- Sergeant Jean in Seven Men of Gascony by R. F. Delderfield. Nicholette is this in a sense and is an interesting enough character to deserve mention. She is a camp-follower selling wine to Napolean's army, not a soldier per se (that is she doesn't carry a musket). However she grew up in her circumstances and was an Old Lady of War at age sixteen. She knew the tricks of surviving including those specific to her circumstances such as avoiding giving away more of the other kind of refreshments than she was willing to give by the adroit use of a Death Glare, and by a non-canonical(presided over by the sergeant not a priest that is) but faithfully kept marriage to each of the members of The Squad until they were killed. I know Squick y but It Makes Sense in Context. She is one of the most interesting characters of the book.
- Bolo: Bolos can spend years or decades on the front lines. Of course, they're self-aware tanks armed with a Wave Motion Gun and whatever else the designers could bolt on, so they tend to fight on a larger scale than most examples here.
- One of the books is even called Old Soldiers.
- In the Malazan Book of the Fallen Whiskeyjack fits this this trope perfectly. Fiddler takes the role in later books.
- In The Black Company series, this trope was written for Croaker and all of the rest of the Company kept in a decades-long magical stasis in the later books, where he also becomes a Four-Star Badass: especially after the Old Guard is resurrected from the magical imprisonment in Water Sleeps.
- Belisarius Series: Maurice is the best example. There are others who have seen quite a bit of war, but these are often Proud Warrior Race Guy s whereas Valentinian is closer to the classic model of this trope, having a cynical, practical and plebian outlook on war. Flavius Belisarius himself, both in the series and in the real life. He was a Syrian Greek of peasant stock, a bunch that was noted for their practical outlook, and it was repeatedly said that he viewed the war not as an honor or a joy, but as a work that has to be done, which is why he was so good at it.
- Nestor from The Iliad. He's described as having at least a generation on the next oldest soldier present in the battle.
- In Lord of the Rings, Gamling. He expresses concern that the army mostly consists of men his age and their grandsons, because of the high casualty rates Rohan has suffered recently.
- Bob Shaftoe eventually becomes one of these in The Baroque Cycle.
- The Kingdom and the Crown has an old Roman Centurion named Sextus Rubrius.
- Druss "The Captain of the Axe" in Legend by David Gemmell. Right down to being brought out of a 'leave me alone' retirement to become the heart of a heroic defense against an overwhelming foe. There is a strong implication that without Druss there the defenders would have routed within a few days of the Nadir army arriving at the gates of the fortress. Druss's presence not only provides a massive morale boost but he also provides invaluable tactical advice since in his life he has participated in dozens of similar sieges as both the attacker and defender. He also has an almost supernatural instinct for the ebb and flow of battle and what to do when it looks like your side might be about to break.
- Ajax the Archer in Robert Asprin's Myth Conceptions.
- The Dansker in Billy Budd, an old sailor "of few words, many wrinkles, and some honorable scars," who always addresses Billy as "Baby."
- John Carter of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series has, by his own admission, been soldiering for literally longer than he can remember, but for some never-explained reason still has the appearance, strength, and stamina of a man in his prime. The combination of peak physical form and decades of sword=fighting experience makes him rather formidable even on Earth, and when translated to Barsoom where the lower gravity allows him to leap moderately-sized buildings with a single bound, he's essentially a one-man army.
Live Action TV
- JAG: Captain Reed in "Desert Son" served in the enlisted ranks before bucking for officer. As a result, he's unusually old and salty for a Marine Captain. And of course there is General Williams.
- Colonel Sherman Potter in M*A*S*H. He was a cavalry soldier in WWI.
- The Pacific: Sergeant Elmo "Gunny" Haney of the USMC. One of the leads, Eugene Sledge, wrote a book entitled, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. Gunny *was* the old breed, having been in the service since the Great War. Victor Davis Hanson noted that he even had a name that sounded like a Marine's name.
- Kang, Kor and Koloth, all Klingon captains from Star Trek who had confrontations with Captain Kirk. They're still fighting, killing and generally being badasses over a century later in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. All three had earned the rank of Dahar Master, which made them legendary even among Klingon warriors.
- The War Doctor's subcultural gimmick in Doctor Who, being that he was a body selected by the Eighth Doctor to be 'a warrior'. He has a young appearance upon first regenerating, but by the time he gets involved in the main series' plot he appears very old, being sick of the Time War.
- "Old" Snake by the time of Metal Gear Solid 4, although he had everything but the physical age by the time of the first Metal Gear Solid. Old Snake is 42.
- The End takes this to it's logical and literal extreme. He's over 100 years old when you battle him, prone to dozing off at random, and can die of old age if you take too long to fight him. He still manages to be That One Boss.
- Sten from Dragon Age: Origins acts like this although you never get a grasp of how old he actually is (digging in character files with the official developer's toolkit lists him as merely 30, making him younger than Alistair and actually an aversion of this trope - not that you'd ever guess that from looking at him).
- Halo: Sgt. Avery Johnson is at least almost 70 years old in the main trilogy, and has survived about half-a-century's worth of constant frontline combat fighting Insurrectionists, Covenant, and Flood. The fact that he's a Spartan-I probably explains at least part of it.
- On that note, all of the Spartan-II Super Soldiers are about 41 by the time Halo: Reach occurs, and they've all been fighting since they were 14. Nevertheless, their augmentations, along with plenty of cryo-sleep, help keep them physically younger than their ages suggest.
- Fur Fighters: Roofus Hound fits the bill. He has since retired along with the rest of his squad but this WWII veteran is still out kicking ass with the best of them when Viggo pops up.
- Jolee in Knights of the Old Republic acts like this sometimes.
- William "Bill" Overbeck from Left 4 Dead, a former Green Beret and two-tour Vietnam vet who is the oldest of the original Survivors. While he may not be in peak fighting condition, he still fights just as well as his other teammates, and (from in-game dialogue) is considered to be the mentor of the group. He is also one who canonically commits a Heroic Sacrifice, though for different reasons.
- Dynasty Warriors: Huang Zhong. Most of his lines invoke his experience and age; the source material Romance of the Three Kingdoms suggests that he was 63 when he first appeared in the story to fight Guan Yu.
- Although he is actually a year younger than Jia Xu. However, Jia Xu appears much earlier in the story and as such is depicted as being much younger looking.
- Huang Gai (no relation) of the kingdom of Wu also merits a mention, being cast as a muscular old marine (that is, a shipborne warrior, as befitting his kingdom's naval tradition) in particular, and ever since Dynasty Warriors 6 he's portrayed with gray or white hair. Also true to most of his Three Kingdoms characterization.
- Carter in Deus Ex.
- In Diablo III the male barbarian was meant to be the same Barbarian Hero from the second game in the series, albeit 20 years older and sporting a gray beard.
- Largo from Valkyria Chronicles had served in the First Europan War some twenty years before the game's events, and is one of the older members of Squad 7. It came as no surprise when he initially saw Welkin as little more than a young upstart cashing in on fame.
- Most squad members in the game are barely teenagers. Some, however, are much older. Catherine and Musaad are also First Europan War veterans and 35 and 43 years old respectively, and Wavy is a 37-year-old Badass Teacher. All of these pale in comparison to storm-trooper Coby, who is 65 and still kicking ass.
- The Force Unleashed: General Rahm Kota.
- Zaeed Massani from Mass Effect 2, who is arguably the toughest member of the team aside from Garrus, and of course, Shepard.
- Urdnot Wrex in the first Mass Effect game, who's Really 700 Years Old and has been a soldier and mercenary the whole time.
- Admirals Anderson and Hackett embody this trope for the Alliance, having fought in ever major engagement of the last three decades. Anderson is said to have enough medals to melt into a lifesize gold statue of himself, while Hackett's service record is apparent from the sheer amount of scars he has across his face.
- Kaidan expresses feeling like one of these at the end of the third game. He's thirty-six at most by that point, but War Is Hell. Shepard him/herself expresses similar feelings despite being even younger than Kaidan, especially by the end of the game thanks to an extreme case of Heroic Fatigue.
- The Regretful Soldier from Echo Bazaar fits quite well. He's always drunk and frequently weeping, but he's still one of the best brawlers there are.
- In Far Cry 2, Josip is 48 years old and a heavy drinker, but still described as a man "who will break you in two."
- Final Fantasy:
- Despite otherwise being an irreverent old coot, Galuf of Final Fantasy V gets very serious whenever it comes to Big Bad Exdeath. Turns out he was one of the four warriors who fought Exdeath thirty years ago and has been ruling Bal in a thoroughly warrior-king way ever since. When Galuf dies in battle against Exdeath—a battle he fought with zero HP—his last words to the party aren't sentiment, but telling them in no uncertain terms to finish the job while they beg him not to die. He does have more caring words for his granddaughter, though.
- Auron from Final Fantasy X is an unusually young example, being only around 35, but considering his role in the group, that the rest of the party is in their teens to early 20s, and that Auron was a longtime warrior monk before he became a guardian, (and then the only guardian to ever survive a successful Pilgrimage, which is enough to make him a Living Legend by itself) and his general Seen It All attitude, Auron being considered the old soldier is more than justified.
- The appropriately named Sensei from Advance Wars, his outfit is an old paratrooper jumper from WW2.
- Jean Thurel served in the French Army from 1716 until his death in 1807. He was 107 when he died, and was consequently known as "the Oldest Soldier in Europe".
- Similarly, William Hiseland was the last survivor of the English Civil War, living to the ripe old age of 112. He fought in his last battle (during the War of Spanish Succession) at the age of 89.
- Samuel Whittlemore, the oldest man known to have participated in the American Revolutionary War. At the ripe old age of 80 he single-handedly ambushed a British brigade, shot and killed three redcoats, was shot in the face, bayoneted 13 times and left for dead in a pool of his own blood. He was found a short time later, still alive and trying to reload his musket. The doctors said he had zero chance of survival. Even so, he recovered and lived another 18 years.
- Due to the nature of the job, some soldiers are affectionately known as "Old Man" or something similar despite being several years away from middle-aged.
- The Old Guard of Napoleon's Imperial Guard. There were also a Young and a Middle Guard, but the Old one was the creme de la creme of the greater French empire. Composed entirely of veterans of Napoleon's earliest campaigns, with at least ten years of service, they were highly valued by Napoleon. Since they were the only soldiers who could dare complain about their conditions in front of the emperor, they were known as "Grognards" (grumblers). Militarily, they served as a reserve thrown into battle at a critical moment to tip the scales, though more usually were kept in the back to avoid taking losses. When the Old Guard broke and routed at the final stage of Waterloo, the rest of the French army followed soon upon hearing of it, such was their Memetic Badass status.
- War of the Triple Alliance featured Duke Of Caxias, supreme commander of the Triple Alliance in the later part of the war, who was nearly 70 and still leading his troops in the vanguard.
- Gerd von Rundstedt joined Germany's elite military academy before Hitler had even gone to pre-school. One of the oldest field marshals and a dedicated Prussian officer, he lead armies in Poland, Russia, and France well into his sixties.
- The last serving soldier to have seen active service in WW2 left the British Army in 1983, with general officer's rank.