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Old Soldier

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Think he's too old for war?
You'll be dead long before he will.

"The only thing you know about an old man, young lady, is that he has survived much more, and much worse, than you."
The Elder, Bullet Train

The old soldier is the grizzled veteran who has been through and seen everything in war. He would more than qualify for being a Retired Badass, both in age and experience, and he's probably experienced the horror of battle already, 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. If he is an officer, expect a Four-Star Badass. 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, inexperienced troops around him.

Despite that, he may still turn out to be one of the best mentors a young soldier can get. As well, despite the years, he may be respected as a Cool Old Guy who cuts a sharp figure with his close-cropped silver hair, hard, sinewy body, and crisp uniform. Some might have to stay in military spheres, either in the service, training newbies in boot camp or as a mercenary, because they are too used to the structure of military life or because they have too much PTSD and too little anger management skills to effectively function in mundane civilian life.

Expect the posh West Point graduated-Officer and a Gentleman lieutenant to rely on him quite a bit in running the unit, a la Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough. If the young officer is struggling to deal with a difficult decision in combat, the veteran Sargeant may give them unasked-for advice. 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 famous quote that "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away" in a fictional work the old soldier has about a 50-50 chance at best of living a story, and are often prime candidates to die in a Heroic Sacrifice of some kind or in a suitably impressive way. If a despised enemy calls on the old soldier to surrender, they will typically prefer an Honorable Warrior's Death, dying with their gun in their hand. If this character dies early in a story, odds are you're dealing with a story that leans towards cynicism, and that it's likely to have a high mortality rate.

If the veteran does a Last Stand to protect someone he cares about, his mixture of combat experience and righteous rage will produce a high enemy body count before he finally succumbs to his wounds. The old soldier is typically experienced in the use of most small arms and military vehicles and they remain dangerous in unarmed close quarters combat, especially to poorly trained, inexperienced enemy troops.

The old soldier may head back into the fray years or even decades after his retirement if he has to respond to an attack on his community from the local Big Bad or terrorists. If the soldier is really is too old to fight, or too battered (or both), but denies that fact and attempts to do so anyway, he may be a Perilous Old Fool, which may be used as An Aesop about knowing how to accept your age.

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    Comic Books 
  • Astro City: The comic 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.
  • Atomic Robo: While it's not clear exactly how old he is, Jenkins is at an absolute minimum 50 years old, probably more, plus whatever awkwardness was caused by spending periods in the Vampire Dimension, which has Year Inside, Hour Outside properties. By The Vengeful Dead, set in 2019, his hair is pretty white and he seems to be mentoring ALAN 2.0 to take over from him as Robo's rock, implying that mortality might be preying on his mind.
  • Batman: 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.
  • Cable: While we first see him, Cable is a baby, and ends up taken to the future to be cured of the Techno-Organic Virus. When he reappears as the founder of X-Force, he's a grizzled veteran of the wars in the far future against Apocalypse and Stryfe, being somewhere in his mid to late 40s (as both younger versions of Cable and his half brother, Nate Grey, have demonstrated, his hair goes white early, starting with a white streak in childhood), so it takes a while for the connection to become apparent. His age is rendered more ambiguous by his time travelling, and at least one deaging/reaging incident, but considering that he spent 16 years raising Hope Summers, by the time of his death in Extermination he's at least 70. It should also be noted that despite his age and having his powers crippled by the virus that's killing him, he still takes down one of the most powerful Avengers rosters of all time prior to Avengers vs. X-Men.
  • The Punisher: The Punisher was often portrayed as this during the mid-late aughts, back when it was still feasible for him to be a Vietnam veteran who manages to carry out his lifestyle. MAX in particular seems to depict him as at least in his mid-50s. Later comics tend to quietly ignore or retcon the Vietnam thing to justify drawing him as a man of forty at most. As of 2022, Marvel has introduced a new, entirely fictional war that's always 15 years in the past - the Siancong War - and the Punisher is a veteran of that conflict.
  • Sin City: Wallace 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.
  • Star Wars: In one of the Star Wars Legends "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.
  • Transformers:
    • The Transformers (Marvel) and The Transformers (IDW) necessarily have quite a few of these, given that the Autobot-Decepticon War lasts, at a rough estimate, three million years.
    • Kup. Thanks to some unwanted time travel shenanigans, he's actually older than the universe itself.
    • Ratchet is more of a grumpy old battlefield medic than a soldier, but still slots into the archetype, drawing heavily from the Transformers: Prime version of the character.
    • Optimus Prime is a rare version that does have a command role, albeit one that leads from the front a lot of the time. He spends the entire three million year span of the War going from battle to battle...hating pretty much every minute of it.
  • The Ultimates: Nick Fury has served in Vietnam, South America, Kosovo, Gulf War One and any modern war to care to number.
  • Wonder Woman: The Wonder Woman (New 52) version of Ares is an old grizzled and cynical soldier.
  • X-Men: 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.

    Fan Works 
  • 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 found his own personal peace, 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.
  • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell:
    • Blazen Sun, who's over 130 years old and is one, if not the very last, of his generation still in the Guard. Still sharp as a tack — he killed a dragon once and could do it again if needed.
    • Mist Flight, lieutenant of the Royal Guard who's held the post longer than his captain Gentle Step.
  • The Bridge: Commander Hurricane is shown as this in the prequel story, Eclipse Times. He's still as skilled as ever and can even keep up with a far physically stronger and magic using Queen Chrysalis for a time, but Surprisingly Realistic Outcome when it's shown earlier he was far past his prime and the best he can do is hold her off.
  • Tarkin's Fist: Commander Cody and the other clone soldiers brought along with Tarkin's Fist are veterans of the Clone Wars and are getting on in years thanks to their accelerated aging.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Das Boot: The Captain of the U-96 is often referred by the rest of the crew as the "Old Man".
  • 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.
  • Heartbreak Ridge: Gunnery Sergeant Highway. Being played by Clint Eastwood helps.
  • Prime Cut: Lee Marvin as an ageing enforcer for the Irish Mob. His driver is an actual World War II veteran.
  • Rio Lobo: McNally, at least while he's in the service. John Wayne was 63 at the time of the movie, and McNally is said to have been in the army before since before the war.
  • Stripes: Warren Oates as Sergeant Hulka.
  • The Thin Red Line: Nick Nolte as Lieutenant Colonel Tall. They don't come much more grizzled.
  • We Were Soldiers: Sergeant Major Basil Plumley. Both the real one and the character played by Sam Elliott.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Americans features a female spy example in Claudia, the Jennings' KGB handler. She would do anything for the Motherland, and first served as a partisan in Stalingrad. She also looks more like a grandmother than a spy, which is why she is so effective.
  • Babylon 5 had a few examples, the two most prominent human examples probably being General Franklin and General Lefcourt. Franklin is a Ground Pounder who proudly boasts that old soldiers can "still kick butt with the best of them," while Lefcourt describes himself as a member of the "Old Guard" who feel it's not their place as soldiers to take up arms against President Clark when he begins ruling the Earth Alliance as a tyrant.
  • Band of Brothers. During the final episode, "Points", Germany has surrendered and some of the now-disarmed German troops are being used in some minor roles in the Allied occupation. One such soldier, an old veteran, is assigned to man a checkpoint with Easy Company's Private Janovec. He happily talks about how he was in every country of Europe during the conflict. He then mentions that this is the end of his second war, meaning he had fought in World War I as well. Janovec is stunned and congratulates him on being able to survive both world wars.
  • 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.
    • Big Finish invokes the trope as one of their audios' titles — Old Soldiers, featuring the Brig, who mentions a saying from his father: "In life, as on the fields of battle, there are old soldiers and there are bold soldiers, but there are very few old, bold soldiers."
  • The Expanse features Captain Klaus Ashford of the OPA Navy. Played by 70-year-old David Straithan, he has no problems keeping up with much younger characters. When an old enemy (and much younger man) throws a punch, Ashford easily dodges it and lays his opponent on the floor. Made especially awesome given that he is a Belter, who generally don't live past 65.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Qhorin Halfhand is a member of the Night's Watch, a senior and experienced ranger who is regarded as an elite scout and soldier.
    • Jeor Mormont has been a soldier almost his entire life.
    • Rodrik Cassel is clearly rather old and is Master-at-Arms at Winterfell and a loyal servant to House Stark. Even in his old age he is still a skilled warrior.
    • Rickard Karstark is a capable general in Robb's army, having fought against the Mad King. In the books, he also killed Ser Stafford Lannister at the Battle of Oxcross (the battle in Episode 4).
    • Tywin has fought in at least two country-wide wars and the annihilation of rebel bannermen before that:
    Tywin: 'The War of Five Kings' they're calling it. This will be my last war. The one I'll be remembered for.
    • Barristan Selmy is one of the oldest active soldiers, as he's a veteran of three previous wars.
    • Malakho is one of the oldest members of Dany's khalasar.
  • 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.
  • Star Trek:
    • 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.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Even though he's not strictly a soldier in the traditional sense, Jean-Luc Picard qualifies as one as he had spent over half a century in Starfleet and been a veteran of numerous conflicts between the Federation and the various hostile powers in the galaxy.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Iliad: Nestor is described as having at least a generation on the next oldest soldier present in the battle.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech has numerous old soldiers: mechwarriors who fought in the 4th Succession War in 3028 showed up to fight in the Fedcom Civil War in 3062. But the character who did the best job embodying this trope would probably be Natasha Kerensky The Black Widow. At the time of her death in 3057, she was 84-years-old and not only was still considered one of the best mechwarriors who ever lived but was also still widely regarded as a sex symbol as well.

  • Girl Genius: Mitko is a grandfather who has been in the Mechanicsburg Militia since the days of the Old Heterodynes and despite needing a cane these days has no intent of retiring from a job he seems near gleeful to return to when the town is under attack.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Trond has been in the military all his life and hates so much the idea of retiring that he'd rather be a Hypercompetent Sidekick in the Mission Control for an expedition in a Forbidden Zone that is doomed to failure as far as most authorities are concerned.
  • Tuesday Titans: Excel and Simon have shades of this. They've been partners for a long time, judging by their behavior toward each other, and they've been fighting long enough to not even blink at challenging an Autocarrier by themselves.

    Western Animation 
  • Gargoyles: Hudson, definitely; in fact, he was addressed as such until he received his name. (Demona still tends to call him this, perhaps out of habit.)
  • Captain Rex was a badass soldier in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. When he comes out of "retirement" in Star Wars Rebels to help the rebellion, he's still a crack shot and clever tactician. Same applies to Wolffe and Gregor, who were respectively a Commander and Captain in the Grand Army of the Republic. Played with, in that while they are indeed old veterans, being clone troopers means they’re only around thirty years old, but also experience Rapid Aging that makes them look twice that age.
  • Parodied in the Season 3 finale of Star vs. the Forces of Evil. Star tries to get get military advice from her old mentor Sir Scarsguard, the oldest of Mewni's knights who's said to have led their army in battle for three generations. The problem is, Scarsguard is now so old that he's gone completely deaf and can't hear any of her questions, and is probably also senile.
  • Teen Titans: General Immortus is a brilliant military tactician since, in the words of a fellow villain, he's experienced every war in history.
  • Transformers:


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Alternative Title(s): Grizzled Veteran


Running Off to the Front

After Napoleon's invasion, Shura's faithful old servant Ivan plans to go to the army again. Shura persuades him to let her accompany him in the guise of a male officer.

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