Henry Gunther

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Henry Nicholas Gunther
Photo of Henry Nicholas Gunther.jpg
Photo of Gunther which appears on his grave.
Born (1895-06-06)June 6, 1895
Baltimore, United States
Died November 11, 1918(1918-11-11) (aged 23)
Chaumont-devant-Damvillers, Meuse, France
Buried at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Baltimore
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1917–1918
Rank Sergeant (up to July 1918 or later)
Demoted to private
Posthumously restored to Sergeant
Unit 313th Infantry Regiment, 79th Division
Battles/wars World War I
Battle of Saint-Mihiel

Henry Nicholas John Gunther (June 6, 1895 – November 11, 1918) was an American soldier and the last soldier killed during World War I.[1][2][3] He was killed one minute before the Armistice at 11 a.m.[2][4][5]

Early life[edit]

Henry Gunther was born into a German-American family in east Baltimore, Maryland, on June 6, 1895.[2][3][5] His parents, George Gunther and Lina Roth, were both children of German immigrants.[2][6] He grew up in Highlandtown, an East Baltimore neighborhood heavily influenced by German immigrants,[3][7] where his family belonged to Sacred Heart of Jesus Roman Catholic parish.[6] Henry Gunther worked as a bookkeeper and clerk at the National Bank of Baltimore.[2][7] He had joined the Roman Catholic service order for laymen, the Knights of Columbus in 1915.[6][8]

War service[edit]

Being of recent German-American heritage and not being over-zealous about fighting former fellow countrymen, Gunther did not automatically enlist in the armed forces as many others did soon after the War was declared in April 1917, but was drafted in September 1917 and was quickly assigned to the 313th Regiment, which had the nickname "Baltimore's Own" and was part of the larger 157th Brigade of the 79th Infantry Division. Promoted as a supply sergeant, he was responsible for clothing in his military unit, and arrived in France in July 1918 as part of the incoming American Expeditionary Forces. A critical letter home, in which he reported on the "miserable conditions" at the front and advised a friend to try anything to avoid being drafted, was intercepted by the Army postal censor. As a result, he was demoted from sergeant back down to a private.[3][5][7]

Gunther's unit, Company 'A', arrived at the Western Front on September 12, 1918. Like all Allied units on the front of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, it was still embroiled in fighting on the morning of November 11.[9] The Armistice with Germany was signed by 5:00 a.m., local time, but it would only come into force at 11:00 a.m. Gunther's squad approached a roadblock of two German machine guns in the village of Chaumont-devant-Damvillers near Meuse, in Lorraine. Gunther got up, against the orders of his close friend and now sergeant, Ernest Powell, and charged with his bayonet. The German soldiers, already aware of the Armistice that would take effect in one minute, tried to wave Gunther off. He kept going and fired "a shot or two".[3] When he got too close to the machine guns, he was shot in a short burst of automatic fire and killed instantly.[5][10] The writer James M. Cain, then a reporter for the local daily newspaper, "The Sun", interviewed Gunther's comrades afterward and wrote that "Gunther brooded a great deal over his recent reduction in rank, and became obsessed with a determination to make good before his officers and fellow soldiers."[3]

American Expeditionary Forces commanding General John J. Pershing's "Order of The Day" on the following day specifically mentioned Gunther as the last American killed in the war.[10] The Army posthumously restored his rank of sergeant and awarded him a Divisional Citation for Gallantry in Action and the "Distinguished Service Cross". Several years later, a post, number 1858 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in east Baltimore was later named after him.[2][3][11]

Gunther's remains were later returned to the United States in 1923 after being exhumed from a military cemetery in France and buried at the Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Baltimore.[2][5] Subsequent investigations revealed that on the last day of World War I, between the beginning of the armistice negotiations in the railroad cars encampment at the Compiegne Forest, French commander-in-chief Marshal Foch refused to accede to the German negotiators immediate request to declare a ceasefire or truce so that no more useless waste of lives among the common soldiers would be expended. By not declaring a truce even between the signing of the documents for the Armistice and its entry into force, "at the eleventh hour, at the eleventh day and the eleventh month", about 11,000 additional men were wounded or killed - far more than usual according to the military statistics.[12]

Memorials[edit]

Commemorative plaque at the grave of Henry Gunther in Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Baltimore, unveiled on November 11, 2010

On "Veterans' Day" (formerly "Armistice Day"), November 11, 2008, a memorial was constructed near the place in Chaumont-devant-Damvilliers in Lorraine where Gunther died.[citation needed] Two years later on the same remembrance holiday, November 11, 2010, a memorial plaque was also unveiled at his grave site in America.[6]

Book and film[edit]

Roger Faindt wrote a historical/biographical book about Gunther, "10h59"; Henry Gunther, le dernier soldat americain mort en 1918 (ISBN 2953512306, 2009). It is being adapted into an English language film titled "10h59", scheduled to begin shooting in 2013 with a budget of 12 million euros.[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hayes-Fisher, John (October 29, 2008). "The last soldiers to die in World War I". BBC News. Retrieved October 24, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Meyer, Eugene (November 1, 2008). "The Unknown Soldier". Maryland Life. Retrieved October 25, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Rodricks, Dan (November 11, 2008). "The sad, senseless end of Henry Gunther". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved October 24, 2012. 
  4. ^ Persico, Joseph E. (2004). Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918: World War I and Its Violent Climax. New York: Random House. p. 351. ISBN 0-375-50825-2. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Edwards, Robert (October 15, 2006). "Henry Nicholas Gunther (1895 - 1918)". Find A Grave. Retrieved October 25, 2012.  This page incorrectly lists Gunther's birth date as June 5, 1895.
  6. ^ a b c d "Dedication of the Memorial to Brother Knight Henry N. Gunther" (PDF). Maryland State Council of the Knights of Columbus. 2011. Retrieved October 25, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c Persico, p. 134.
  8. ^ Bauernschub, John P. (2008). The Knights of Columbus: Fifty Years of Columbianism in Maryland. Wildside Press. p. 209. ISBN 9781434474278. 
  9. ^ Persico, pp. 134-135.
  10. ^ a b Persico, p. 351.
  11. ^ Persico, p. 394.
  12. ^ Persico, p. 378.
  13. ^ "10h59". Montreal World Film Festival. p. 2. Retrieved April 18, 2012. 

History of the Germans in Baltimore