His thoughts — Paying tribute to Gunther, Havlat and the 11th hour

Published 12:30 pm Thursday, November 10, 2022

The 11th hour has become synonymous with Veterans Day, originally called Armistice Day, in recognition of the document signed at the 11th hour, or the 11th day, of the 11th month. In reality, the armistice ending the war to end all wars was signed around 5 a.m. on November 11. Over the course of the next 6 hours, nearly 3,000 men would lose their lives in the final hours of a war that had already claimed the lives of 20 million military personnel. The final death of WW1 came at 10:59 a.m., one minute before the guns of war would fall silent.

Private Henry Gunther was a German-American drafted in the fall of 1917. Most accounts state that his final actions were motivated by Gunther’s need to demonstrate that he was “courageous and all-American.” A chaplain from Gunther’s unit recounted, “As 11 a.m. approached, Gunther suddenly rose with his rifle and ran through thick fog. His men shouted for him to stop. So did the Germans. But Gunther kept running and firing. One machine gun blast later, he was dead. His death was recorded at 10:59 a.m.

In every conflict, inevitably a final service member pays the ultimate sacrifice. In World War II, Private Charlie Havlat, the son of Czech immigrants, in the closing days of the war, found himself liberating his parents’ former homeland – word of the cease-fire reached his position minutes after he was killed. Officially, the U.S. has never declared a final casualty in the Korean War. Since the armistice was signed, nearly 100 U.S. soldiers have been killed in combat on the Korean peninsula.

Not only should we remember that the democratic principles we hold so dear have been defended by generations of Americans whom we honor on Veterans Day, but more importantly we should take inspiration from that sacrifice. Our country, despite all our self-imposed differences, needs to look to our Veterans and see that there are no divisions in a foxhole – there are only those who stand in defense of democracy and those who stand against it.

While we may only celebrate Veterans Day with a few moments of silence each year, we have an opportunity to use those moments to find our own way to serve as part of our commitment to living up to the legacy of our Veterans. When the Armistice was signed in 1918 when the Japanese surrendered, and when the last flights departed Kabul and Saigon – these were not simply endings – they were new beginnings. We honor those who serve by recommitting ourselves to making the sacrifices necessary to preserve our way of life.

As Adlai Stevenson once stated, “Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” Let this Veterans Day be a new beginning. Go forth and find a way to serve our nation, our communities, and each other – we owe it to our veterans.

Joseph Reagan is the Director of Military and Veterans Outreach for Wreaths Across America.