Henry Gunther of Baltimore, MD, died at one minute before the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — the last American soldier to die in the four-year struggle called World War I.
An act approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday, known as “Armistice Day.” Congress amended this act on June 1, 1954, replacing “Armistice” with “Veterans.”
Gunther was the son of German immigrants and was drafted into service and assigned to the 313th Infantry. He arrived on the Western Front in September 1918. Gunther is remembered today because of the timing of his death. Most service people have served in anonymity, so this week the Forks Forum remembers those that volunteered and those that were drafted — and we thank them.
Many honored this week were written about in their hometown newspapers and several gained larger notoriety. The late Charlene Caldwell’s father Ira George Zaddach (No. 59) was immortalized in a book and later a movie, Charlene remembered the movie premier and how amazing it was.
Pat LaChapelle’s WWII experience was written up in his hometown paper. Pat (No. 109) was a Seabee and was on an island outnumbered by Japanese troops where he worked to get an airfield ready.
The following is excerpted from a newspaper story about Pat’s experience:
“About one month after the captured airfield had been made fully operational, a squadron of B-24 bombers was taking off loaded with bombs and full of fuel. Pat was working the night shift running a bulldozer. Instead of going to the chow line at the mess hall, he went directly to his tent and laid on his bunk to go to sleep. One of the fully loaded B-24s crashed on take-off, the blast and fire killing 40 Seabees. The blast blew Pat out of his tent and rolled him up on the ground in mosquito netting. Although he was uninjured, most of the casualties were in that chow line.”
This year, the veterans section has the most decorated soldier of WWII, Audie Murphy (No. 127), thanks to the fact that his cousin Sherri Aguayo now lives in Forks. Murphy was not just written up in almost every newspaper and Life Magazine; he went on to play himself in the movie “To Hell and Back,” and later had a movie career.
Sherri remembers him just as a regular guy, her cousin, spending a lot of time with him at his home at Studio City.
“He was just a normal guy; his friends were movie stars but they were just regular people, too,” Sherri said. She remembers spending time with Roy Rogers and other famous people.
Sherri works at the Forks Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information Center and says when the movie stars come each September for the Forever Twilight in Forks Festival she enjoys it, but doesn’t get star struck.
”They are just people like us,” she said.
After the war, Murphy worked 21 years in the movie industry, mostly in westerns and he appeared in a TV series too. He also raised quarterhorses.
Sadly, Murphy suffered from what today is called PTSD, suffering from insomnia and anxiety. Even though at one point in his life he suffered money trouble he refused to appear in cigarette and alcohol ads saying he did not want to set a bad example.
Murphy died in a plane crash in Virginia in 1971 just shortly before his 46th birthday. Sherri recalls his funeral being quite an event.
On June 7, 1971, Murphy was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In attendance were Ambassador to the U.N. George H.W. Bush, Army Chief of Staff William Westmoreland and many of the 3rd Infantry Division.
Murphy’s gravesite is in Section 46, headstone number 46-366-11, located across Memorial Drive from the amphitheater. A special flagstone walkway was later constructed to accommodate the large number of people who visit to pay their respects. It is the cemetery’s second most-visited gravesite, after that of President John F. Kennedy.
Sherri said it was a surreal experience to receive condolences from current and former presidents.
This Sunday, Nov. 11, take a moment to thank all veterans. Thank you all for your service.
— Christi Baron, Editor