Records Shed Light on Last American Killed in World War I
By Michael Davis | National Archives News
WASHINGTON, November 9, 2018 — As the nation commemorates the hundred-year anniversary of the end of World War I, records at the National Archives and Records Administration shed light on the last American, and the last combatant from any nation, to be killed in that conflict.
Just two minutes before the Armistice ended hostilities at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, Pvt. Henry N. Gunther, of the 79th Infantry Division’s 313th Infantry Regiment, was shot and killed in France as he charged a German roadblock in the village of Chaumont-devant-Damvillers near Meuse.
Archives Specialist Mitchell Yockelson said the National Archives holds millions of records related to the American Expeditionary Forces, some of which can be used to provide a narrative of the events that took place 100 years ago in France.
“The Armistice was set for 11 a.m. on November 11 of 1918. As the clock ticked forward at 10:58 a.m., Private Gunther had stood up and was charging towards the German lines when he was shot by a German machine-gun. Two minutes before the Armistice, Henry Gunther was killed,” Yockelson said, reading from a war diary.
In addition to the war diary, Yockelson pointed out other historical documents pertaining to Gunther’s death. He noted a telegram confirming his death, a handwritten paper with the time of his death, and a grave registration burial card affirming that his family wanted his body shipped to his hometown in Baltimore, Maryland.
“They wanted him back with the family because they loved him so much,” said Carol Gunther Aikman, Gunther’s great-niece.
Aikman said there is speculation as to why Gunther, who had been demoted from sergeant to private for writing a critical letter in which he encouraged a friend to avoid being drafted, decided to charge toward the German lines two minutes before the Armistice was to be signed. However, she said she feels he showed a tremendous amount of courage by volunteering for the dangerous job of being a message courier.
“Standing here at the gravesite brings the records that document the service of Henry Gunther and his unit the 313th infantry, known as ‘Baltimore’s own,’ to the forefront,” Yockelson said.
The First World War finally came to an end on November 11, 1918—at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Each year thereafter, Americans observed Armistice Day to remember World War I veterans. After World War II, the day honored all veterans, and in 1954 the name was officially changed to Veterans Day.