Joseph William Guyton

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Joseph William Guyton (June 10, 1889 – May 24, 1918) was the first American soldier killed on German-held soil during World War I. Private Guyton was from the small town of Evart, Michigan.

Joseph William Guyton
Joseph W. Guyton.JPG
Born (1889-06-10)June 10, 1889
Evart, MI
Died May 24, 1918(1918-05-24) (aged 28)
France
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Private

Life[edit]

Guyton was born in Evart Township, Michigan. He attended a rural school in the area for only a short time before leaving to work in the oil fields of Ohio. He also worked as a farmer, plumber and well driller. In December 1909, Joseph Guyton married Winona Baker from Lake City, Michigan. Their only child, Olive Clara Guyton, was born in 1911.

In 1917, after the U.S. entered World War I, Guyton joined the 126th Infantry Regiment and was attached to the 32nd Infantry Division (the "Red Arrow Division") at Camp MacArthur near Waco, Texas. On February 17, 1918, Private Guyton sailed with his comrades out of New York harbor bound for France. On May 15, 1918, the status of his unit was changed from replacement division to combat.

Death[edit]

At around midnight on May 24, Guyton became the first casualty. He was an automatic gunner on a post near the line of resistance. His instructions were to fire his gun intermittently. He was discharging his duties when the Germans returned a barrage of machine gun fire; Guyton was struck in the temple and died instantly. The Commanding General of the 9th French Infantry Division, to which the 126th was attached, issued the following orders on the 25 May:

Divisional Order No. 297 General Gamelin, commanding the 9th Infantry Division, cites in the Divisional Order: The soldier, Joseph W. Guyton, of the 126th American Infantry Regiment, 'on guard in the first line was killed by a machine gun bullet. He is the first soldier of the 32nd American Division to fall fighting for the cause of right and liberty on Alsacian soil, beside his French comrades.'

General Pershing lists Guyton as killed in action on May 24, 1918, in the Gildwilder Sector in Alsace the day after the unit entered the line of battle. Guyton was temporarily buried in a nearby church yard on foreign soil. He was posthumously awarded the croix de guerre (the grand cross of honor) by the government of France.

In memory[edit]

Gravesite of Joseph W. Guyton in Evart, MI

In May 1921, President Warren G. Harding placed a presidential wreath on the flag-draped coffin of Private Guyton at a funeral ceremony for over 5,000 American war-dead at the army piers, Hoboken, New Jersey. He spoke these words: "In the name of the republic, I bestow this tribute on the casket of the first soldier who perished on the soil of the enemy... I chose it because I am offering the tribute to the one returned whose death on enemy soil marked the day when our civilization went face forward and the assault on our present day civilization knew it had failed. May 24, 1918, is the date on which this soldier was killed, and the name is that of Joseph W. Guyton, Company I of the 126th Infantry, a resident patriot and hero of the State of Michigan of the United States of America."

Guyton's remains were returned from New Jersey to Evart by rail and were met at the depot by his parents, relatives, friends, citizens of the town, and members of the Joseph W. Guyton Post of the American Legion named in his honor.

June 5, 1921, 10,000 people gathered in Evart to pay tribute to the hero. On hand were dignitaries of the military, state government, local government, and a number of Civil War veterans. The local Evart newspaper reported that over 1,000 automobiles and 500 soldiers were present in the small community that day. Guyton's remains were buried at Forest Hill cemetery outside the town.

The following week, Guyton's ten-year old daughter, Olive, presented the American flag that had draped Guyton's casket, to the local American Legion Post. Olive made the presentation with the assistance of her uncle, L.V. Guyton of Lancaster, Ohio, as her mother had died from influenza just months after her husband had been killed. Olive died just one year later from pneumonia.

Within the city of Evart today are a park and highway bridge both dedicated to the memory of Joseph W. Guyton. In Guyton Park stands a cannon dating back to World War I and a monument to the memory of all who lost their lives from Evart during World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Memorial Day ceremonies begin at the Guyton Park and conclude at Forest Hill Cemetery.

An elementary school on the East Side of Detroit, Michigan was built and named in honor of Joseph Guyton. It opened in 1921 and was closed in 2009.

External links/sources[edit]

  • Early Evart, Evart Michigan DDA & LDFA
  • Gansser, Emil B., History of the 126th Infantry in the War with Germany, Published 1920 126th Infantry Association, pp. 68–69 Google Books
  • Joseph W. Guyton, Michigan Historical Marker