The last Finnish veteran of an elite group known as the Knights of the Mannerheim Cross has died.
Tuomas Gerdt died at the age of 98 in Helsinki on Sunday morning. His death was announced by the Knights of the Mannerheim Cross Foundation.
Gerdt was born in 1922 in Heinävesi, South Savo, and went to fight in the Winter War at the age of 17.
He later served as a non-commissioned officer responsible for combat messaging in the 7th Infantry Regiment during the Continuation War, a late phase of World War II fought by Finland and Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union in 1941-44.
Gerdt was awarded the prestigious Mannerheim Cross, 2nd Class in September 1942 for bravery in fighting on the Karelian Isthmus the preceding summer. He was later promoted to captain and later worked in the forest industry.
The Mannerheim Cross, 2nd Class was bestowed for exceptional service, regardless of rank. Altogether 191 Finnish soldiers were granted the honour during the Continuation War.
Only two men were bestowed with the Mannerheim Cross, 1st Class: Gen. Erik Heinrichs, Chief of the General Staff during the Continuation War, and medal's namesake, Field Marshal C. G. E. Mannerheim, who later became president.
Since the 1990s, the surviving Knights were traditionally the first guests to be greeted by the president at the Independence Day Ball, Finland’s most-watched media event of the year.
This year's gala is cancelled due to the pandemic.