Henry Gunther: The Final Death of World War 1


Jack Farnum-Huelster, Staff Writer

It’s November 11, 1918. World War 1 is coming to an end…but you don’t know this. At about 5:00 AM in the morning your enemy, Germany, signed an armistice that will bring the fighting to an end at 11:00 AM the same day. It’s now around ~10:50 AM. The war is so close to being over. Your survival is basically assured. All you have to do is wait out its final moments. Then you can go home to your family. But if you’re American soldier Henry Gunther, ignorant of the armistice, you intend to do everything but that.

Pvt. Gunther was preparing to make a suicidal charge into a German machine gun position. Why? He had been demoted from the rank of Sergeant to Private after he sent a letter from the trenches of France to the United States encouraging a friend not to join the Army. The letter was actually illegal because of the Espionage and Sedition Acts, which made speaking against the US involvement in the war illegal. To get his rank back, Gunther decided it would take an act of suicidal bravery.

In the final minutes of the war, Gunther fixed his bayonet and went over the top. He then charged the German lines. His comrades tried to stop him, but to no avail. When German machine gunners saw Gunther charging them, they did not open fire. Instead they tried to wave him off. Unlike Gunther, they knew full well the war was ending in just minutes. They didn’t want to kill him. But he didn’t stop. He kept coming. When he was almost within bayonet range the crew had no choice – they opened fire.

With one burst from machine gun fire Gunther was killed.

Henry Gunther was killed in action at 10:59 AM, November 11th, 1918 – One minute before the armistice went into effect. He was the last soldier killed in World War 1. Albeit posthumously, he would be re-awarded the rank of Sergeant.