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Henry Gunther Memorial (Last KIA WW1)

<< Back to Chaumont-devant-Damvillers

Details:

On the east side by the trail.

Monument


An information panel implanted into the block of stone. Four low stone pillars surround the monument standing on a patio.

The panel is inscribed in French, German and English, a description of the events leading up to Henry Gunther's death at 10:59 am on 11 November 1918, one minute before the Armistice.

The memorial was raised on the initiative of Pierre Lenhard, a local historian, with the support of the mayor of Chaumont and the local authorities.

Dedication took place on September 24, 2008.

Monument Text:

(Etched into the stone below)

En hommage

Henry Gunther

 

English translation:

 

In tribute

to

Henry Gunther

 

For the information panel:

(2nd column, English)

 

The last

American

killed

 

On April 6, 1917, the United States

of America declared war on

Germany and entered the First

World War on the side of France

and her allies. In a , two million

young Americans. both volunteers

and conscripts, were sent to

France. General Pershing, the

Commander in Chief of the

American Expeditionary Force,

refused to allow his troops to be

amalgamated with French units

and requested a separate

American attack sector.

 

The US troops were given the task of reducing the St. Mihiel Salient, an area in the Department of the Meuse. The

assault took place on 12 September 1918. Within three days the Americans, supported by French units, had liberated

the salient, which had been in German hands since September 1914.

 

Marshal Foch then ordered another major offensive. This would begin in the Meuse-Argonne region on 26 September

1918 and thrust towards Mezieres. Foch wished it to be as violent as possible. The offernive was to be carried out

by the first American Army, supported by the Second French Colonial Corps, the 17th French Army Corps and the

Fifth Cavalry Division.

 

American operations began on 26 September 1918 and came to an end on 11 November 1918 at 11am. There were

three phases:

from 26 September to 3 October : the initial assault.

from 4 October to 31 October : the main battle.

from 31 October to 11 November : advance to victory.

 

On the American right wing, the final assault was carried out by the 26th and 79th Infantry Divisions. The Germans

were pushed back to a line running from Damvillers to Romagne-sous-les-Cotes but were ordered to hold at all costs

the position known as the Kriemhilde line. On 10 November 1918, the village of Chaumont-devant-Damvillers and

the surrounding hills were liberated by the 313th, 314th and 315th US Infantry Regiments. Ahead of them, the German

31st Landwehr Infantry Regiment put up furious resistance.

 

Henry, Gunther, a native of Baltimore, was in Company A, 313th Infantry.

Aged 23 and of German origin, Gunther had previously worked in a bank and was

to be married when he returned home. Following the censor's interception of a

letter critical of army life, Gunther, who had previously been promoted to Supply

Sergeant, was downgraded to Private. He was wounded at the start of the

Meuse-Argonne offensive but refused to be evacuated, preferring to remain with

his comrades.

 

Although it was known early on 11 November that the Armistice would take effect

at 11am that day, the High Command ordered the assault to continue to the last

minute. Emerging from a bank of fog, Private Gunther and his friend, Sergeant

Powell, found themselves confronted by two German machine gun squads

manning a road block. The Germans watched in disbelief as the Americans came

forward. Powell and Gunther threw themselves to the ground, as bullets cracked

overhead. The Armistice was imminent and the Germans ceased firing, believing

that the Americans would have the good sense to stop. Their sacrifice would not

change the war. Suddenly, Gunther got up and ran at the enemy. Sergeant Powell

ordered him to stop. The German gunners signalled to him to go back but

Gunther kept advancing. One of them fired a five-round burst. Gunther was struck in the left temple and died

instantly. It was 10.59am. One minute later, the Armistice took effect and silence descended on the front.

 

Later, there were scenes of fraternization and in the evening the Germans fired off all their rockets, lighting up the

sky over their positions.

 

General Pershing's Order of the Day recorded Henry Nicholas Gunther as the last American soldier to die in the First

World War. He was posthumously promoted to Sergeant and received the Distinguished Service Cross. In 1923,

Gunther's body was returned to Baltimore and buried in Section W of the Holy Redeemer Cemetery.

 

This memorial renders homage to Gunther and his comrades, whose actions here pushed the Americans advance in

the Verdun sector to its furthest extent.

Translation : Christina Holstein

Commemorates:

People:

Henry Nicholas Gunther

Units:

313th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division

79th Infantry Division

American Expeditionary Forces (AEF)

United States Army

Wars:

WWI

Battles:

Meuse-Argonne Offensive