World War I (then called the Great War for obvious reasons) ended on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918, but the war came to an end one minute sooner for one American soldier on the day of the Armistice.
Henry Gunther has long had the unenviable distinction of being "the last soldier killed in WWI," after he was struck down by German bullets as he charged an embankment at 10:59 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, in the French town of Verdun. Poor Gunther's body wasn't even cold yet by the time both sides put down their weapons 60 seconds later.
But Gunther's bad luck didn't start and end with one of the final shots of the war.
The native of Baltimore, Md., was drafted by the Army shortly after becoming engaged in 1917 just as he took a job as an accountant. His bad luck would continue the next year when he was demoted from the rank of sergeant to private after the Army censors intercepted a letter home to a friend where Gunther was bemoaning the terrible conditions of the Western Front. However, the army reinstated Gunther's original ranking a short time after his death.
Though the specifics of his death have been left up to debate for nearly 100 years now, Gunther was "officially" recorded as the final American death of WWI after the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, General John J. Pershing, declared that Gunther was the final soldier to meet his fate on the day the Armistice was signed.
Historians agree that Gunther was shot down as he made his final charge towards the German forces that fateful morning, but what they're not sure about is why he proceeded with his offensive when he knew that the war would be ending in a matter of minutes. Was it miscommunication in the fog of war or was it Gunther's determination on proving himself as a strong and loyal warrior?
The German soldiers allegedly fired several warning shots at Gunther as he made his approach, but the young soldier continued his charge and they were forced to take action.
Including Gunther's, there were at least 3,000 deaths in the hour leading up to the 11 a.m. deadline, and many more were killed between the time the Armistice Agreement was signed at 6:00 a.m. and put into effect five hours later.